Dear Beagle Editor, VALE MONICA GERONDAL - BUT THE GERONDAL CASE GOES ON
Last Saturday, 28th January, I attended a memorial service for Monica Gerondal at Canberra Girls Grammar school. It wasn’t a sad affair. Family and friends spoke proudly of a woman who was eccentric, but a peacemaker and a recognised artist in the area of recycled art.
Monica had a dream. That dream was to reconstruct and extend historic shearers quarters that had been carefully dismantled and moved from Cootamundra to her rural block in Bingie. That dream was destroyed by illness and an uncaring Eurobodalla Shire Council (ESC).
Monica continued to collect new and used building materials after she and her husband were no longer capable of building their recycled dream home. For this, Monica was persecuted and victimised in a way that I found degrading and repulsive. Hoarding, if that is the right description for Monica’s collecting habit, is a recognised illness and one that calls for understanding, not victimisation that leads to bankruptcy and destitution.
I am not a legal expert, so I won’t comment on the legal aspects of the Gerondal case, other than to say that I read the opinion of a Sydney based Senior Counsel who expressed the view that Mrs Gerondal had been unfairly convicted because of her inability to pay for legal assistance to defend herself against the ESC.
I am however a qualified facilities management professional with extensive experience in government contracting.
In 2012, I conducted a desk audit of the contracting procedures employed by the ESC in letting a contract for the “clean up” of Monica Gerondal’s Bingie farmette. I was dismayed at what I found.
- A contract was let for a figure of $147,000 for the removal of just 80 tonnes of new and used building materials.
- Coincidentally, this figure was only $3,000 short of the threshold where public tenders must be called.
- Only two quotations were received. One from the successful contractor and the other from one of the successful contractor’s subcontractors. There was no effective competition.
- The successful contractor was the brother of a senior Council manager *.
I determined that the contract anomalies and conflicts of interest might be overlooked if the contract price was fair and reasonable. But it wasn’t. I prepared my own estimate and consulted two major contractors for their advice. My report provided a costing breakup, and determined that a reasonable lump sum rate for the removal of 80 odd tonne of building material was between $45,000 and $50,000. The accepted rate for this type of clean- up work is around $500 per tonne, including tip fees.
Was acceptance of this inflated contract amount an honest mistake? Certainly not when Council itself quoted $34,000 to remove 50 tonnes of the same materials from Mr. Gerondal’s Broulee house in 2011.
Council ignored my findings and for years pursued the Gerondals through its legal advisers.
In 2016, after being bankrupted by the ESC, Mrs Gerondal convinced the trustee of her estate that the ESC’s modified claim of $129,662.88 for the Bingie clean-up contract was still excessive. As a result, the trustees engaged a legal firm to commission a totally independent assessment and report from professional quantity surveyors and expert opinion providers, Mitchell Brandtman. That report cost the Gerondal estate $20,000.
Mitchell Brandtman determined that: - The final contract sum was NOT fair and reasonable. - A reasonable contract sum including GST was $70,400, excluding salvage benefits. This figure is almost $60,000 short of the amount claimed by Council.
The Mitchell Brandtman estimate was supported by detailed costings and assessments, and in my opinion, was generous towards Council and the contractor.
Once again, Council rejected expert opinion. It then commissioned its high powered Newcastle lawyers to fight the Mitchell Brandtman findings, at ratepayer expense.
It is time the Gerondal case was brought to a conclusion, or it will continue to fester. A conclusion will only be reached on the contracting side of the issue if Council’s contracting methodology, procedures and over charging in this case, is subjected to a completely independent inquiry.
Above: The Gerondals, August 2011 - photo courtesy of Euro Leaks Editors Note: The above is published in good faith on the absolute assurity of the author that "The facts in the letter have all been verified, particularly the relationships between the Council contractor, the unsuccessful contractor and ..... (a senior Council Manager)." * The position was named however, until absolute proof of the relationship between contractor and that manager is held by The Beagle ,the position of that officer will be withheld.