DUMPED deputy mayor Salim Mehajer has flagged a return to politics just months after he was suspended alongside his fellow councillors.
The property developer told news.com.au this morning that his decision on whether to run for council again would be made after the July 2 Federal Election.
Mr Mehajer also blasted NSW Premier Mike Baird, calling the process around the controversial council mergers — which has seen protests and violent behaviour at town halls across the state — an “abuse of power” due to “hidden agendas”.
Mr Mehajer’s comments come today as a public inquiry starts into the conduct of Auburn Council and whether decisions made by the council, particularly when it came to developments, inappropriately benefited councillors.
In February, NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole dismissed all Auburn councillors pending the inquiry’s outcome.
Despite the likelihood of Mr Mehajer being called as a witness at the inquiry, he appeared relaxed in a recent Facebook post. He is seen smiling in a photograph posted online with Kings Cross club identity Fadi Ibrahim and body guard Semi Ngata, known as “Tongan Sam”.
‘ABUSE OF POWER’
Mr Mehajer has had almost four months to get used to being stripped of his council duties. That’s not the case for the hundreds of other councillors who have now also been sacked as part of the government’s council merger program.
The changes have proved divisive with some meetings of the newly merged councils disrupted by locals angry that they will have no elected representative until new elections are held in 2017.
A group of “knitting nannas” forced the new Mid Coast Council’s first meeting to be halted while, in Sydney, the government appointed administrator of the Inner West Council was spat on and had his papers thrown to the floor.
Mr Mehajer said he could “see a lot of positives” in council amalgamations but was critical of the way the process had occurred.
“I see the abuse of power through the Baird Government, whereby particular councils have been merged in such a nonsensical way that I can only see hidden agendas behind their decisions,” he told news.com.au.
“A prime example, and indeed one that is close to all our hearts as part of Auburn City Council, is the withdrawal of Sydney Olympic Park from our council and handing it over to form part of the new Parramatta City Council.”
Under the Government’s merger blueprint most boundary changes involved simply joining neighbouring authorities together to create supersized councils.
However, Auburn was sliced in two and divided between Parramatta Council and a newly formed Cumberland Council.
“I’m still trying to work that out,” he remarked on the changes.
‘NOT RULING OUT’
Mr Mehajer also said the lack of elected councillors at the new authorities created a “transition problem” because even when local elections were held next year it would still take six months for them to get up to speed.
Local administrators, who will run councils in lieu of councillors, should be “given the green light to work with our people as Sydney still needs 35,000-plus new homes each year and many of these need to be apartments”.
One of the first acts of Auburn’s new administrator, Viv May, when he took over the reins from local councillors in February was to suspend the sale of a council car park to Mr Mehajer which he had planned to use as the site for a new apartment block.
Asked whether he might consider standing as a councillor for Cumberland Council, which covers his marital home in Lidcombe, Mr Mehajer said it could be on the cards.
“Definitely not ruling this out,” he told news.com.au. “My decision as to whether or not I would run for [Cumberland Council] will be made after the Federal Election.”
Mr Mehajer and his wife Aysha shot to prominence last year when their lavish wedding sparked national headlines. At the time he expressed an ambition to one day become prime minister.
However, his more pedestrian aim — to simply re-enter local politics — could take a blow if the inquiry finds he or any of his fellow councillors broke the rules in their council dealings.
“Hopefully the inquiry will restore community faith in its elected representatives,” former Auburn councillor Irene Simms, and long-time critic of Mr Mehajer, told the Daily Telegraph.
“More transparency is required in councillor declarations and I support the view that developers and estate agents should be prohibited from running for local government.”
However, Mr Mehajer may come out smelling of roses.
In February, the NSW Supreme overturned a four-month suspension order made solely on Mr Mehajer by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The Office of Local Government were subsequently forced to pay his legal costs.
Mr Mehajer has also been in the news for his apparently rocky relationship with wife Aysha.
She has not been seen at the couple’s home for a month, has reverted to using her maiden name and has reportedly left NSW for the Gold Coast.
Last month, a romantic video emerged of Mr Mehajer and a woman called “Hooda” which was apparently recorded when he was engaged to Aysha.