Staff spill beans on mayor’s surveillance plan

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mayorWHY would a Sydney mayor want to spend $12,000 wiring his office and reception for video and sound? Auburn councillors intend to ask Ned Attie when they meet on Wednesday night.

Cr Attie’s wish to place his rooms under watch was revealed in a staff report covering his request for “camera surveillance and listening devices” in his office, its reception and meeting room/kitchenette.

The stand-alone system, additional to the council’s CCTV network, would be accessible remotely, the report for the council says, without specifying by whom or why. A three-camera system would be required, enhanced by microphones “located appropriately to ensure satisfactory audio recording”.

Various US presidents – most famously Richard Nixon – similarly recorded their White House conversations but it is understood to be a first for Auburn.

Cr Attie was coy about the proposal to wire his mayoral suite for sound and vision, declining to be interviewed by Fairfax Media.

A council spokesman said the Liberal mayor had wanted staff to look into the ”possibility” of installing extra surveillance ”for the purposes of transparency and promoting an open government”.
But the request that they report back to him with ”cost and options” was unintentionally set down in a two-page document for Wednesday’s meeting, he said.

”The mayor was not aware of the staff formalising any request and was also not aware that it had been included in the business papers,” the spokesman said.

Councillor Irene Simms was among several councillors who said they would be seeking an explanation on Wednesday. ”I just think it’s one of the most invasive and paranoid things that I’ve ever heard of,” she said.

The legality of the system was also canvassed by the report, which found anyone entering or working in the mayoral suites would have to give permission to have private conversations recorded.

The spokesman, who dismissed the report as ”speculative”, said Cr Attie believed the introduction of CCTV would serve to record the times and dates of people visiting his offices. ”He’s been recently appointed to the role and has a different way of thinking from the previous mayor in this regard,” he said.

Cr Attie and former mayor Ronney Oueik were both embroiled in claims of trying to sack the whistle-blowing general manager, John Burgess, during a closed meeting of council earlier this year. Mr Burgess, whose complaint to ICAC led to the sacking of former councillor Jack Au, also initiated an inquiry into alleged breaches of confidentiality in a tender for street-scape upgrades worth more than $5 million.

Cr Attie and former councillor Izzet Anmak had sought to rescind the contract of the successful tenderer in favour of another. All tenders were scrapped after legal advice to council warned the process had been ”seriously compromised”.

New tenders for the upgrade will be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, in a closed session.

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