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Forbes community split over $500 land deals -

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ELEANOR HALL: Now to accusations of secret property deals at a country council in New South Wales.

The Mayor of Forbes has been accused of a conflict of interest, over a land release, involving the
Mayor's partner and her son-in-law.

Community members say they are outraged that there wasn't a public auction.

Bronwyn Herbert has our report.

BRONWYN HERBERT: In the central west town of Forbes, the local shire council spent more than a
million dollars developing a new industrial estate.

The Mayor Phyllis Miller says for years there had been little interest from potential buyers for
the land valued at more than $40,000.

So the council decided to offer the blocks at $500 a piece.

PHYLLIS MILLER: We thought, well somehow we have to kick start to get that industrial estate going.
So it was about getting expressions of interest for people that would be prepared to go there under
some very, very strict guidelines.

BRONWYN HERBERT: The Council commissioned a number of real estate agencies to manage the offer.
Within a matter of hours, the agencies had received more than a dozen expressions of interest to
buy the land and the Council declined to accept any more offers.

The Mayor's partner and her son-in-law were among the people to put in an offer along with a family
member of a real estate agent involved in the sale.

The Mayor says the Council closed the expressions of interest process early, because of the level
of interest.

But local businessman Joe Stirling says only those in the know knew of the cheap deal.

JOE STIRLING: No one was given any pre-warning on the whole thing. It was all sort of under the
wrap and kept within the people that knew about it.

BRONWYN HERBERT: He says it raises questions why family of councillors and shire staff were

JOE STIRLING: There was no real planning put into it. It was a snap decision. I don't know what
they drink down there at the town hall or what but there's definitely something going on there.

And this would also have relaxed concerns of local ratepayers and everything if it was advertised
and organised through an auction.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Tony Cogswell is on the Forbes business advisory committee to the shire.

TONY COGSWELL: People are outraged. One because they feel that the decision was ill-conceived and
implemented very poorly. It wasn't openly advertised.

BRONWYN HERBERT: He says for those successful - it's a very good deal.

TONY COGSWELL: Those average blocks, the week before were on sale for about $48,000.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Really, so it's a good deal then to get it for $500?

TONY COGSWELL: It's an excellent deal.

BRONWYN HERBERT: The mayor - Phyllis Miller - denies there was any early tip offs to family and

PHYLLIS MILLER: My son-in-law was one of, his partner put in for a block, so once those expressions
of interests came forward I had a conflict of interest.

BRONWYN HERBERT: There are also allegations that your partner put in an expression of interest; is
that true?

PHYLLIS MILLER: My partner has withdrawn anything to do with council land. He was to purchase a
block and I asked him immediately, I realised that that happened and he withdrew immediately

BRONWYN HERBERT: So he did actually put in an expression of interest?

PHYLLIS MILLER: Withdrew immediately.

BRONWYN HERBERT: I understand there were other family members of both councillors and real estate
agents who also...

PHYLLIS MILLER: I can't speak for other people. I can only speak for myself Bronwyn and any
conflict that I have, but I'm certainly not going to speak about where other people sit with their
conflicts or pecuniary interests.

BRONWYN HERBERT: But as the Mayor of the community, why shouldn't the public know about that?

PHYLLIS MILLER: Well, it is confidential. Most things that are doing with land, if you are selling
land or anything, this is confidential until a decision has been made by council.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Some of those successful, have now withdrawn their offer.

Complaints have been made to the Independent Commission against Corruption; however an ICAC
spokeswoman says she cannot confirm or deny if the organisation is investigating the matter.

ELEANOR HALL: Bronwyn Herbert reporting.