Newcastle Council’s Future City Director Judy Jaeger and Newcastle Art Gallery Director Ron Ramsey have been sacked by Newcastle City Council.
The council had suspended the pair on full pay for the past 15 weeks pending the findings of a council-appointed investigation into the acquisition by the Newcastle Gallery of Brett Whiteley’s sculpture Black Totem II.
The sculpture was gifted to the gallery under the Commonwealth Cultural Gifts program by Whiteley’s wife Wendy in September. However, Newcastle City Council has since alleged that the sculpture was not donated as the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation had claimed, but was part of a deal that required the Foundation to donate $350,000 to the Brett Whiteley Foundation in Sydney, a claim hotly denied by the Foundation.
On its own legal advice, the Newcastle City Council alleged that the deal put it in breach of tax and charity laws and could lead to the Council being stripped of its tax-deductible gift-recipient status.
“Ron Ramsey . . .has shown great leadership, knowledge, energy and a truly amazing breadth of contacts across the art world, business and government.” Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation
According to Whiteley’s lawyers everything was “above board, legal, and posed no potential damage to the council”. The Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation has also issued a statement:
“What’s important for everyone to note is that the acquisition of this wonderful artwork – which enhances the reputation of this gallery and our city – was at no cost to the Council, its ratepayers or the people of Newcastle. . . Its $40,000 removal cost from Sydney, its transport to Newcastle, installation in Laman Street – in accordance with a Development Application approved by Council – was totally met by the Art Gallery Foundation. Not Council money. Not ratepayers’ money. It was the Foundation’s own funds, and the generosity of its donors.
This transaction was carried out in good faith, by people of good will, for no reward other than the betterment of the Newcastle Art Gallery. No-one in the Foundation has drawn any benefit whatsoever from this transaction.”
The Foundation also expressed their continued support for Ron Ramsay’s direction for Newcastle Art Gallery:
“Ron Ramsey . . .has shown great leadership, knowledge, energy and a truly amazing breadth of contacts across the art world, business and government.”
Newcastle City Council’s General Manager, Mr Gouldthorp would not elaborate on the exact findings of the investigation. He said the investigation had raised ‘‘questions and allegations’’ about the pair’s actions and ‘‘the two individuals were given multiple opportunities to respond’’.
Judy Jaeger says she fully co-operated with the investigation but has not been allowed access to the allegations or information. In a statement, she expressed the following:
“In my 35 year career in local government (I have) conducted myself with integrity and transparency . . . I vehemently refute any suggestion that I have acted in breach of any fiduciary or other duties in my role as director.”
You can also find:
Ms Jaeger’s statement on 1233 ABC Newcastle radio.