Wangaratta Council exposed | Mirabella letters passed on without consent

THE personal letters of congratulations from former member for Indi Sophie Mirabella to ex-Wangaratta councillors in late 2012 were passed onto “a third party” without consent, according to former mayor Rozi Parisotto.

Ms Parisotto made the admission and other startling revelations on day one of a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal appeal launched by one of the letter recipients, Julian Fidge, yesterday.

The letters — sent to Dr Fidge, Ms Parisotto, Noel Amery and Paul O’Brien by Mrs Mirabella after the 2012 council elections — were released under Freedom of Information in early February last year.

Under cross-examination from Dr Fidge’s legal team, Ms Parisotto admitted the letters were entered into the council records before being disclosed to a third-party without permission from Cr Fidge or Mrs Mirabella.

“That is exactly right,” Ms Parisotto said.

The former mayor defended the council’s handling of personal mail sent to council offices during the hearing.

“Any correspondence written to a councillor is registered,” she said.

“It is the process.

“I don’t believe private correspondence would be sent to councillors.”

Dr Fidge’s legal counsel argued how a congratulatory letter would have anything to do with their councillor role.

The hearing before VCAT senior member Ian Proctor also learnt an email sent by Dr Fidge to a friend could have been “hacked” from his account.

Ms Parisotto said the contents of the email were brought to her attention, but Dr Fidge’s friend didn’t disclose to anyone else its existence.

His legal counsel said it wasn’t intended for public consumption.

“Someone has gone through his email sent box and it has ended up being the subject of complaint.”

Ms Parisotto said she couldn’t dispute the theory.

“It got to the stage the media knew everything before we did,” she said.

Ms Parisotto revealed the dramas between Dr Fidge and former chief executive Doug Sharp and other senior managers last May coincided with the impending death of her mother.

“I was at my wit’s end and contacted the (Municipal Association of Victoria) for help,” she said.

“A complete breakdown between council and council staff had occurred.”

She said the senior staff were reluctant to attend meetings and councillors were only getting “basic information” about council projects.