Councils’ Resistance Against Capped Rates

Despite the rate capping bill not passed in Parliament yet, many councils are revealing their resistance tactics to override / sabotage the rating capping policy. The tactics that was reported to RVI so far are:

Tactic 1 – Apply special charge schemes

Source: http://mpnews.com.au/2015/10/26/rate-cap-may-not-quell-cash-calls/

What are special charges? Click this document for not one consistent definition, but many varying definitions by councils and state agencies.

Tactic 2: Compliance strategy that also integrates suggestive social engineering tactics in leading ratepayers to request more services and agree to supporting councils in raising rates above capped levels.  At the same time, councils can conveniently argue, with survey evidence of course,  that they have “engaged” with their communities and only representing what they want, in future capped rates variation applications.

Source: https://www.monash.vic.gov.au/About-Us/Council/Have-Your-Say/Looking-ahead-to-next-Council-budget/Survey-for-next-Council-budget

If Councils want to effectively engage with their communities in seeking to raise rates above capped levels, they must comply with good principles of community engagement, which the final ESC report gives some insights into. They cannot simply exercise controlled community engagement as they currently do, but must show evidence of complying to the rate capping policy’s criteria. This includes giving specific service and trade-off information to assist local communities to make informed decision to support their councils in seeking higher rate rises

 

Monash Mayor Misconduct @ Citizenship Ceremony

What does this article says about the Monash Mayor’s understanding of good governance?

Julia Rabar of Waverley Leader, reported on 26 January , 2015 (original source http://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/east/monash-mayor-paul-klisaris-cops-backlash-over-vote-labor-appeal-at-citizenship-ceremony/story-fngnvlxu-1227197046847)

Monash Mayor Paul Klisaris cops backlash over ‘vote Labor’ appeal at citizenship ceremony

Monash Mayor Paul Klisaris speaks at the council’s citizenship ceremony. Picture: Lawrenc

MONASH Mayor Paul Klisaris has been lambasted by his Liberal colleagues for a “tongue-in-cheek” comment appealing for new Australian citizens to vote Labor.

Addressing 42 new citizens at the council’s Australia Day citizenship ceremony today, Cr Klisaris said Australians could vote however they chose, “but we’d prefer it if you voted Labor”.

> > > Was the comment inappropriate? Tell us below.

Cr Klisaris later defended his comments, saying there was freedom of speech in Australia and he didn’t think his comment would have “swayed anyone” to vote Labor.

“I think people are being a little bit precious, it was all tongue in cheek,” Cr Klisaris said.

“I turned to our guests and apologised.”

But Mt Waverley state Liberal MP Michael Gidley and Monash councillor Robert Davies, who ran for the Liberal Party in the recent state election, were less than impressed.

Mr Gidley said it was “disgraceful” and “completely inappropriate” for the mayor to use Australia Day as a platform for party political purposes.

“The purpose of Australia Day is to recognise our history, and look forward to the future,” Mr Gidley said.

Cr Davies also said the mayor’s comments were “disgraceful”, particularly in front of new Australians.

“It also shows a lack for respect for his colleagues,” Cr Davies said.

—————————————-

Now some Councils want to take over parenting roles….

The madness of power grabbing of Councils never fail to amaze and entertain…. are they becoming out of line with service delivery – another rate rise excuse for new community services in policing this potential by-law?

Samantha Landy from Herald Sun reported on a 13 Jan 2015 article:

“Port Phillip Council bans junk food from Skinners Adventure Playground, South Melbourne

Tannah and Hayley enjoy Skinners Adventure Playground in South Melbourne.

Tannah and Hayley enjoy Skinners Adventure Playground in South Melbourne.

JUNK food has been banned from an inner Melbourne playground.

The local council has declared South Melbourne’s Skinners Adventure Playground a “junk food-free zone”, advising children to leave chips, chocolate and sugary drinks outside.

The City of Port Phillip says allowing junk food to be eaten in the park would undermine the message of its healthful eating programs.

But a leading child psychologist says the council could be “shooting itself in the foot” by discouraging children from spending time outdoors.

“All sweet, fatty or fast food or drink is banned from the playground and must be consumed before entering. If you would like your food or drink put away for you whilst in the playground, please see a staff member,” a message on the council’s website reads.

Port Phillip Mayor Amanda Stevens said that the “junk food-free zone” was not intended to punish children who wanted to eat treats, but to complement council’s healthful eating initiatives for disadvantaged families living in nearby public housing.

These included a breakfast program for schoolchildren and a Friday night community meal, which were of benefit to about 130 local children, Cr Stevens said.

Free fruit and vegetables are also handed out at the park.

The Mayor said “nine out of 10” visitors were happy to comply with the ban.

“Occasionally someone’s not happy. But we have about 50 other playgrounds in Port Phillip where you can eat what you want,” she said.

Child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg said parents, not authorities, should be pushing their children to eat well, and a blanket ban may discourage children from using the park and getting exercise outdoors.

“That defeats the purpose,” Dr Carr-Gregg said.

“The idea of not exposing children to unhealthy food is sound, but you don’t want to take away the idea that there are special occasions where you can eat junk food, like birthdays.”

Dimity Gannon, of food and fitness advocacy group the Parents’ Jury, said parents needed these sorts of initiatives to support their own efforts and she would like to see other playgrounds follow suit.

Dietitians Association of Australia spokeswoman Julie Gilbert said the ban was a good starting point, but better educating children about the dangers of junk food would be more effective in the long term.”

Ratepayers footing the bills for Councils’ social media use

Last week, Ratepayers Vic Inc (RVI) was asked by the Herald Sun to response to their question – “Would your association want councils to spend money on social media at the expense of delivering vital community services or do you see a need for increased use of social media in this digital world as a way of communicating with residents?

The following is our official response:

” Social media are just forms of communication channels, for specific purposes. When Councils do not have clear strategic communication plan or social media use policy, ratepayers will be paying for their costly & risk learning curves. To worsen matters, the prevalence and quality of social media policy vary from Council to Council. For example:

  • the City of Melbourne has a pretty good  & comprehensive policy;
  • Maribyrnong Council’s policy is Mickey mousy  as it only states what social media and contact tools they use;
  • Monash Council has no such policy and just allowed their Mayor to use his private blog in official Council newsletters, etc which is causing many potential transparency, accountability and conflict of interest issues that it is not admitting.

 The key concerns is many Councils who do not understand the risks of social media will use them as “big boys’ toys”, exposing ratepayers to pay for very expensive learning curves. These Councils also run the risk of breaching good governance, including the Local Government Act, when Mayors and Councillors are allowed to use their private blogs and other on-line communication tools (that mix personal and Council contents) in official Council communications.

 Because of high learning curves that are costly and risky, Ratepayers Victoria Inc does not support Councils to spend unnecessary ratepayers’ money on social media. The Minister of Local Government or the MAV should set a best practice social media policy for all Councils to use, of which many already in the private and higher government levels. This approach will reduce learning curves and risks for all Councils and facilitate good practice management consistency in the multi-modal digital communications of all Councils. Until such time, discretionary and explicit social media costs are irresponsible and cannot be supported in all Councils.

 Councils should also consult with their communities when developing their social media policies because these policies set the rules of their on-line and interactive engagement with their communities. “

The Local Government Minister acknowledged the value of fostering a statewide policy to ensure Mayors and Councillors use social media in compliance with good governance principles. She also advised that her office is aware of the lack of and inconsistency in social media policies in Councils. She advised ratepayers that there “will be a legislation in 2014 aimed at enhancing the understanding of Councillors about the rules that apply to their role and the high standards of conduct they are required to uphold. Furthermore the proposed legislation will strengthen internal Council processes so that Councillor conduct matters are better managed internally. This should include the circumstances in which Councillors can publicize their work on Council through private mechanisms including social media“.

We see some light at the end of the tunnel.

The Herald Sun’s News Article

Andrew Jefferson from The Herald Sun reported (source: Local councils are all a-Twitter article, 23 Jan 2014):

” MELBOURNE councils are directing increased resources towards social media as local government gets more tech-savvy.

Some employ as many as five staff with social media responsibilities as councils spend increasing amounts of time pushing messages through sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

But critics say councils are wasting ratepayers’ money on social media with many mayors and councillors using it as a self promotion tool.

The City of Melbourne employs two people whose primary responsibility relates to managing social media, resulting in 8946 likes for its official Facebook page and 132,000 for its That’s Melbourne page.

Spokeswoman Bronwyn Perry said the council was active on social media with the number of followers for its Facebook and Twitter accounts about 334,000.

“The City of Melbourne believes social media is a vital channel to inform residents, businesses and visitors of council policy and activity,” she said.

Other councils with big Facebook followings include Mornington Peninsula (7512), Wyndham (6325), and Knox (5580).

Some councils just have a single Facebook page, while others have several pages for specific events.

Port Phillip (508 Facebook likes) and Manningham (244 Facebook likes) both employ five people with social media responsibilities in addition to their primary roles.

Manningham chief executive officer Joe Carbone said updating social media took up only a small part of his staff’s time.

“Updating social media accounts takes staff members only minutes a day and as this function is currently a minor part of existing roles there have been no additional staff costs,” he said.

Nillumbik, with just 128 Facebook likes, employs three communication staff who are specifically trained to contribute to council’s social media platforms.

Port Phillip’s media and communications officer Siobhan Coughlan said the council’s costs on social media were minimal, spending about $100 a year on software.

“In 2011 we employed a consultant to assist with branding on Facebook and Twitter and work around strategy and policy, costing around $10,000,” she said.

Dr Chan Cheah, from Ratepayers Victoria, said when councils do not have clear social media policies, they run the risk of them being abused.

“These councils run the risk of breaching good governance, including the Local Government Act, when mayors and councillors are allowed to use their private blogs and other online communication tools that mix personal and council contents in official council communications,” he said.

MAV President Cr Bill McArthur said it was vital that all levels of government adapt and provide information in a way sought by communities in this increasingly digital age.

“Social media provides councils with a genuine means of engaging with communities, many of whom may not be otherwise connected with their council,” he said.

Some councils such as Hume, Melton, Whitehorse, Whittlesea, and Yarra City do not have any dedicated council Facebook pages “.

Dumped: Labor candidate for Hotham, Monash Councillor Geoff Lake

 Quote from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd:

‘‘If you’re going to talk about a new way for Australian politics, which is positive, not negative, brings people together, doesn’t divide people, but also is respectful of people, including their gender, then I believe you’ve got to take some hard decisions from time to time. That’s what we’ve done, and I stand by them.’’

The Prime Minister had issued a statement late on Saturday night saying he had asked for Mr Lake to be disendorsed following an investigation by ALP national secretary George Wright and said ” …….I cannot be confident that he has met the standards that I would expect and demand from members of the federal parliamentary Labor Party.”

Read more from the Age 10 Aug 2013

ABC News (11 Aug 2013) also reported

The Labor Party’s election campaign has been stunned by the loss of two candidates in one day, just a week into the campaign.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been forced to dump the Labor Party’s candidate for the safe Victorian seat of Hotham, Geoff Lake, over his failure to disclose an altercation with a colleague 11 years ago.

Meanwhile, Labor’s charge for the north Queensland seat of Kennedy, Ken Robertson, has stood aside over comments he made about Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Last night Mr Rudd issued a statement saying he had requested the party’s national executive remove Mr Lake as the endorsed Labor candidate for Hotham.

Mr Lake, a Monash councillor, last month won a bitterly fought pre-selection to contest the seat being vacated by long-serving Labor frontbencher Simon Crean.

Mr Crean’s former seat is currently a very safe Labor electorate, with a margin of 14 per cent.

But Mr Lake lost the Prime Minister’s confidence after he was forced to apologise for verbally abusing a fellow councillor during an argument at a Monash Council meeting 11 years ago.

News Corporation newspapers reported that Mr Lake apologised to the woman at the time and regretted his actions.

“I was a young mayor and I got angry one night and I spoke to her in angry way, which I acknowledged then and I acknowledge now,” Mr Lake said, according to News Corp.

Mr Rudd says he has stepped in.

“Earlier today, I asked the National Secretary to report on a range of allegations concerning Mr Lake’s conduct in his previous career in local government – in particular his conduct in relation to fellow councillors at the City of Monash Council,” Mr Rudd said.

“The National Secretary has informed me that he is not satisfied that there has been full disclosure about these previous matters.

“Based on the investigation, I have concluded that it is inappropriate for Mr Lake to continue as the endorsed Labor Candidate for Hotham.

“As such I cannot be confident that he has met the standards that I would expect and demand from members of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.”

Within minutes Mr Lake’s profile had been removed from the party’s website. Mr Lake has not returned the ABC’s phone calls.”

More news visit:

  1. ABC news 11 Aug 2103
  2. News.com.au
  3. The Age 10 Aug 2103
  4. The Australian 10 Aug 2103

A few weeks ago, this is what Geoff Lake had to say about he representing ALP’s “generation next”  – click here to watch the video.

Above the Law

Tessa Hoffman from the Monee Valley Leader ( 19 Dec 2012) reported:

Councillor guilty over illegal pay rise

 

A MOONEE Valley councillor has pleaded guilty to misusing his position to get a former council chief executive a pay rise.

Paul Giuliano today pleaded guilty to misusing his position while he was mayor to get a 5 per cent increase on former chief executive Rasiah Dev’s salary from $315,000 to $330,750 from January 2009, resulting in a total of $34,678 extra pay starting in January 2009.

Variations to chief executives’ contracts must be subject to a formal council resolution.

Broadmeadows Magistrates’ Court heard an independent consultant had recommended that Mr Dev receive a 5.3 per cent pay rise following a favourable performance review by councillors.

Prosecutor Peter Matthews told the court Mr Giuliano discussed the matter with councillors at “at least one meeting” and over the phone, and acting on an assumption councillors had agreed to the pay rise, he asked the human resources manager to authorise the increase.

Defence counsel Jonathan Maher told Magistrate Robert Kumar that in the past 10 years, no chief executive’s pay rise had gone before the council and there was no policy or procedure in place for the process.

The court heard a councillor found guilty of a deliberate misuse of position could receive a $10,000 fine and be disqualified from sitting for seven years.

Mr Matthews said Mr Giuliano’s action was “not a deliberate misuse of his position … more he ought to have known”.

Magistrate Kumar said he was amazed the incident occurred.

“Ratepayers will have concerns about this council,” Magistrate Kumar said.

Magistrate Kumar accepted that council officers did not help Mr Giuliano and there was no system in place.

He ordered Mr Giuliano to pay the court fund $1000 and $5000 in court costs.

He was given a 12-month good behaviour bond.

No conviction was recorded.

Outside court Mr Giuliano told the Moonee Valley Leader he could continue as a councillor because no conviction was recorded.

Mr Dev is now the chief executive at Darebin Council.

——————————————————————————

Jack Davies commented:

“As President of Ratepayers Victoria the blatant abuse of the local Government act by Paul Giuliano at the MOONEE Valley council is an example of the protection by the labor party in spite of the local Government act. When the courts start ignoring such breaches of the act and complaints by Ratepayers we are on the verge of treachery. Jack Davis President RPV INC.”

Never mind the poor service, pay up or be sued!

Miki Perkins from the Age (6 Dec 2012) reports:

RESIDENTS who are having trouble paying their council rates are being sued by their councils at increasing and ”alarming” levels, according to a report from legal centres.

Over the past eight years, the number of court claims for unpaid rates has tripled – councils now sue more than 6000 people a year but almost all of these are for amounts less than $10,000.

Community legal centres are concerned that councils are too quick to sue without exploring alternatives and investigating if the residents are experiencing genuine financial hardship.

This means that legal costs and court fees are added to the overall debt, making it more difficult for the ratepayer to pay up, a report from the Federation of Community Legal Centres and Footscray Community Legal Centre says.

”We’re not trying to say people shouldn’t pay their rates – of course they should – but there’s an alternative to suing,” said Hugh de Kretser, executive officer at the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

”The experience of other sectors [such as utility companies] has shown that a responsible, ethical debt-collection policy is not only the right thing to do but it can more effectively collect revenue.”

Mr de Kretser said the most litigious Victorian councils were those in growth areas and rural areas, including Wyndham, Melton, Casey and Frankston.

But disadvantaged council areas do not inevitably lead to higher rates of legal action.

Greater Dandenong is the most disadvantaged demographic area in metropolitan Melbourne, and Melton Council is also in the top 15, yet Melton sues residents at more than 10 times the rate of Greater Dandenong, Mr de Kretser said.

Melton truck driver Ian Bishop and his wife fell about $2500 behind on their rates after Mr Bishop’s work hours were reduced and he was forced to change jobs.

The City of Melton took them to court and the couple offered to pay $25 a week, but the council’s solicitors refused and demanded $75 a week, Mr Bishop said.

Mr Bishop says he was never told that he could claim financial hardship.

”Council told us they could take our house anyway because we were behind in rates … now they’re starting to threaten us by saying they can contact banks, that we could end up losing our house,” he said.

The City of Melton’s financial hardship policy was available on its website and in rates notices, the general manager of corporate services, Peter Bean, said.

Municipal Association of Victoria president Bill McArthur said the organisation supported reforms that would help promote early access to legal and financial counselling support.

The legal centre report found adopting a hardship code of practice for councils would reduce the stress on vulnerable ratepayers, who were often aggressively targeted, and would reduce unnecessary action.

 

Despite all the talks and presentations the councillors get on governance, it is still not getting through…..

The Age (23 Oct 2012) reported that:

HELEN Whiteside considers herself a normal sort of person. She’s political, no doubt – a paid-up Liberal Party member. But her time as Glen Eira mayor left her so disillusioned she wonders why an average community member would bother running for council.

With council elections winding up this week, Mrs Whiteside is calling on residents to scrutinise candidates carefully. As for the troubled Glen Eira councillors – some of whom were sacked in 2005 and are standing for re-election – they all deserve to be thrown out, she says.

Glen Eira – which covers suburbs such as Caulfield, Bentleigh and Elsternwick – consistently outperforms other councils on community satisfaction.

But in the past four years the council has faced the Ombudsman’s scrutiny over 10 separate issues, one Ombudsman’s report revealing Councillor Frank Penhalluriack’s alleged bullying behaviour and failure to declare conflicts of interest, and a critical assessment from the local government watchdog, the third since 1998.

Mrs Whiteside, a popular mayor, resigned in 2010. The council suppressed her letter of resignation. She told The Age she resigned because she felt some councillors were not declaring conflicts of interest and were set against chief executive Andrew Newton, wasting at least $30,000 on extra legal advice during the renegotiation of his contract.

Now that every sitting councillor except one is standing for re-election, the former mayor says residents should think carefully. ”Integrity is fundamental to being a councillor,” she says. ”Transparency, accountability and being objective. I believe councillors should make decisions for the long-term best interests of the entire community.

And her former colleagues? ”I don’t think they should be re-elected,” she says.

Mrs Whiteside said she was particularly disturbed about the 2010 decision to relinquish public open space to the Chabad House synagogue extension at 441-496 Inkerman Street, St Kilda East. She alleged Cr Michael Lipshutz had a conflict of interest because of an association with the synagogue’s benefactor, Jewish community leader Joseph Gutnick.

Mr Lipshutz said Mrs Whiteside’s revival of this matter was ”anti-Semitism of the worst kind. She is saying that because I am Jewish I am not fair-minded … I have no association with (Mr Gutnick) whatsoever,” he said. (Greens Cr Neil Pilling also voted to hand over the park.)

Mr Lipshutz said Mrs Whiteside was a ”failed councillor and a hopeless mayor who divided the council”.

Since the last election in 2008, councillors have had several brushes with the state’s integrity agencies and the court system. This year chief executive Mr Newton filed a bullying claim against Cr Penhalluriack. The hardware store owner refused anti-bullying training and is fighting councillor misconduct allegations at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

In a 2010 investigation, Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf found insufficient evidence to prosecute any councillor, but uncovered councillor behaviour ”at odds” with the council’s objectives and ”underlying issues with regard to transparency and accountability”.

When drafting the chief executive’s contract in 2010, councillors inserted a clause requesting he notify them of any inquiries from the state’s integrity agencies. Mr Wolf found the illegal clause existed in an early draft, but no one owned up to putting it there. ”Despite all the talks and presentations the councillors get on governance, it is still not getting through,” a council source told The Age.

The Glen Eira city council elections are this Saturday.