Named and Shamed
by Neryl East

ISBN: 978-0-9807212-0-1, Publisher: Jane Curry Publishing (2009)
Reviewed by: Julie Garland McLellan*

No-one in Australia can yet have forgotten the Wollongong scandal. Sex traded for planning permits, con men, bribes, death threats; it was a classic thriller set in a local council. For weeks it kept everyone riveted to TV screens and glued to newspapers.

This is an inside view of events as they unfolded. It is a personal and therefore biased view. Related by one of the key figures, literally named and shamed as the drama developed, it provides a fascinating insight into the emotional impact of a raid by the corruption watchdog.

Neryl East has done a great job of letting the protagonist talk in his own words and, at times, it feels as if you are sitting in a bar and hearing the tale first hand. The character shines through the writing. The book is deliberately written in the first person and this makes it a more compelling read than the transcripts and reports that were published in the course of the corruption inquiry.

The book starts with a brief history of Wollongong and Rod Oxley's youth. This could beneficially have been edited down to less than the fifty one pages taken before the real action starts. The controversial characters of the four Lord Mayors and the culture of the council paint the backdrop against which the story takes place.

The portrayal of Rod is perhaps developed at the expense of some of the other characters. They are more ephemeral than they deserve given their important roles in the events that transpire; but this is Rod's story and others appear as mere scenery for him to move through. His opinions of the other characters are enlightening but they say more about Rod than about Beth Morgan, Frank Vellar or Glen Tabak.

One of the clearest points in the book is the failure of the leadership of the elected councillors. With a vacuum above, the CEO had no wise council to whom he could refer difficult issues such as suspicions of relationships between staff and clients. A CEO driving the entire development of one of Australia's largest cities was a direct result of the absence of clear direction set by a group of elected councillors.

The description of the raid is harrowing; imagine following strangers through your office, watching as they rifle through papers, oust staff from their offices and investigate the contents of desk drawers. The frustrations of maintaining confidentiality and complying with complex regulatory requirements are palpable. The description of that day would be enough to deter any sane individual from questionable behaviour.

The book is a cautionary tale and well worth reading.

* Julie Garland McLellan is a professional non-executive director, board and governance consultant and mentor. She is the author of "Dilemmas, Dilemmas: practical case studies for company directors", "The Director's Dilemma", "All Above Board: Great Governance for the Government Sector" and numerous articles on corporate strategy and governance.

Julie Garland McLellan to judge 2011 Global eBook Awards