Former mayor Debbie Wisby escapes punishment for renting property to council workers through Airbnb

A former Tasmanian mayor found guilty of breaking the state’s local government law by renting out his visitor accommodation to two council workers has avoided any punishment.

Former Glamorgan Spring Bay mayor Debbie Wisby rented her Triabunna Airbnb to two acting chief executives over a three-month period in 2019, receiving a $3,300 payment from the council.

Ms Wisby was charged with four breaches of the Local Government Act in 2020 following a complaint from the Australian Services Union.

Today Deputy Chief Magistrate Michael Daly found her guilty of two counts of abuse of office and two counts of misuse of information.

Ms Wisby was mayor and councilor of Glamorgan Spring Bay when the council appointed two interim chief executives, Ian Pearce and Harry Galea, and knew they needed local accommodation, with the cost to be reimbursed by the council.

Mr. Pearce stayed in the accommodation between May 20 and July 9, 2019, and Mr. Galea from July 8 to August 11.

Magistrate Daly said Ms Wisby offered them a rate of $300 a week – well below her regular weekly rate of $833 – in a bid to reduce the amount the council spent.

He called the deal ‘unusual’, saying Ms Wisby’s proposed reduced rate exemplified her ‘good intentions’ but her process for doing so broke the law.

Ms Wisby provided details of the arrangement to the full council in June and sought advice from an employee of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Office in August on whether renting her accommodation to someone associated with the council constituted a conflict of interest.

“Ultimately, it cannot be disputed that your intention was to reduce council tax,” Magistrate Daly said at sentencing.

Ms Wisby’s lawyer told the court she had been the target of a ‘relentless public campaign’ by some of her colleagues at the time.(ABC News: Leon Compton)

Ms Wisby’s solicitor, Chris Gunson, argued that Magistrate Daly should not register a conviction as it could impact his standing on government boards.

He said Ms Wisby tried to save the financially troubled council money during a housing shortage as the deal she offered was against her financial interests.

“I would characterize this as a somewhat technical breach of the law without motivation or malicious motives or nefarious conduct on the part of the defendant,” Mr Gunson said.

He said Ms Wisby had been the subject of a ‘relentless public campaign’ against her by council workers and some councillors, and had received treatment for anxiety and depression.

Magistrate Daly noted that Ms Wisby had faced ‘really significant consequences’ as a result of her offence.

He found her guilty on all four counts, but imposed no further sentences.

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