[This post is a copy of a letter sent to all Councillors]
Ratepayers Victoria (RPV) have been contacted by many Monash ratepayers about their concerns of good governance in the manner in which the Monash & Elizabeth Gardens’ matter was handled. Recently, RPV has been advised that about 10,000 people petitioned against the sale of the 2 aged care residential facilities. RPV has been interviewing several hundreds of these people and majority of their complaints is not about the decision direction. They were concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability demonstrated in the decision making process. This process also includes the Expression of Interest (EoI) to investigate the intent to sell and now the remainder of the sale process in compliance to the Local Government Act section 189.
RPV has noted that Council has exercised legal compliance procedure in handling the selling process BUT lacks leadership motivation for showing transparency and accountability of the social impacts of the decision to sell the 2 aged residential facilities.
Good governance is not just about legal compliance but interacts with leadership that supports transparency and shows accountability for widely accepted social decisions. Through their observable behaviours, communications and interactions with each other, the five Councillors who voted to sell the aged care facilities have made up their minds and collectively support each other to ignore the fact that their ill-founded arguments for selling is not widely accepted in the community.
These five Councillors are lacking in ethical leadership because of the many reasons the community have highlighted, which consolidates to 3 themes – lacking process and information transparency, poor community consultation and lacking completeness, factuality and research validity of information used in decision-making.
In 2012, the Council knew about the Sweett Consultant’s proposal recommending to sell the 2 aged care residential facilities. On 25 June 2013 and behind a closed meeting, the Council unanimously supported this consultant’s proposal and voted to investigate an EoI to sell the facilities. Unlike past asset sale precedents, the community had not be given the opportunity to be consulted about the matter in its early inception and to this date there is no open disclosure of what were in this Sweett’s proposal or business case that justified the recommendation to consider selling. Anecdotal sources said that this recommendation is some individuals’ self-interests to use legal compliant Council procedures to execute a coveted plan that can avail cash for investing in building a new library and community hub that is part of the Glen Waverley Activity Centre master-plan, also developed during 2012.
This anecdotal information, together with other concerns addressed in the many questions to Council, raise too many questions of ethical decision making despite complying correctly in a procedurally legal context. The answers given by Council are too general, usually avoiding answering the questions, and continue to raise issues of trustworthiness of the responses given and the ethical validity of the 5 Councillors’ overruling decision to sell. During the 29 Oct meeting, the key basis of these 5 Councillors were ill founded, solely motivated by ill founded financial justification and ignores the voice of 10,000 petitioners who are asking for a better transparent and accountable decision making process before finalising a well informed decision.
The Monash Community is asking the Council to consider reviewing a community based solution, which has been excluded in the Sweett Consultant’s proposal and Councillors’ justifications communicated to inquiring community members. Without including this alternative, the decision making process is based on incomplete information and the majority voted decision outcome is therefore not well informed and lacks unbiasedness in intentions.
Furthermore, my committee members and I have attended Council meetings and believe five Councillors were affixed in their minds to sell regardless of the costs to the community. They presented arguments that lacks address thoroughness in solution considerations and cannot clearly indicate the actual cost of doing nothing other than it cost “tens of millions” of dollars. To have such arbitrary information to justify an important community decision not only shows the poor quality of decision making but also the level of competency of the decision makers. In the past, these five Councillors often show passionate community advocacy, such their resolve to overturn a decision to sell the Oakleigh Swimming pool, which only supported a small number of users and to this day has incurred significant cost deficits for Council. The lead Councillor who advocate for the Oakleigh Swimming pool user group, chickened out from voting his decision by being absent.
RPV commemorate the four new Councillors who voted against selling the aged care facilities. Initially, they agreed to consider commencing the EoI process, that is the start of the sale process. However, they consulted and listened to the community, reviewed their decision and communicated that they did not make a well-informed decision earlier. They also admitted that they have not know about and therefore considered the community based solution, nor have not evaluated the social impacts on all segments of the Monash community. Given this situation, they admitted their decision-making lacks sufficient information to support a well advised decision. In the 24 October Council meeting, they have voted responsibly against the sale in this situation.
Many ratepayers have complained to RPV about political fractions in the Monash Council for a very long term. The dividing relationship conflicts between ALP and Liberal affiliated Councillors have become too influencing in many decision directions and is increasingly becoming obviously visible in open behaviour conducts, body language, things being said in Council meetings and local press. It comes to the stage that the community is fed up with such growing political games being carried out in Council, which is not a parliamentary environment.
The community has indicated to us that they are submitting a request that Council carry out a revocation motion. Based on what we have observed as unethical decision making, although legally compliant, we too support this proposal for carrying out a revocation motion.
Ratepayers Victoria is asking every Councillor to support a revocation motion, including considering to investigate a community-based model before making a final decision. Should you refuse to act on this community driven request, we have no choice but to view that your leadership is one that pursues procedurally legal compliance and poorly justified financial returns and disregards explicit support for other aspects of good governance principles and against the interests of the community who voted for you.
This is the “one size fits all” answer many people got from Geoff Lake, our new “I-centred” Mayor who determines what ratepayer should have and not have.
Thank you for your email to councillors on the weekend requesting that Council revoke its decision to progress the transfer of Monash Gardens and Elizabeth Gardens to a new operator.
As you know, this matter has been canvassed extensively in the past few months leading up to the decision made last week by Council. There has been significant community and media interest and every councillor has been engaged in different ways with members of the support groups and the wider community generally in working through the issues involved. Although councillors had different perspectives on the issue and there was spirited debate over whether or not to progress the transfer, Council did formally resolve to do so. As one of the councillors who supported this direction, I assure you that this was not an easy decision, however it was one that we are confident is in the best interests of the existing 165 nursing home and hostel residents at the two facilities, as well as also being in the best interests of Monash ratepayers more generally.
There has been no new information which has come to light, or anything which has changed, between the decision taken by Council last Tuesday and the present time. As such, there is no basis to suggest that Council would be, or should be, of a different mind if re-visiting this decision now compared to the position we were in last week. While I know that you and many family members strongly disagree with Council’s decision, Council was acutely aware of your positions prior to making our decision. For Council to have proceeded in the face of such strong and well organised opposition when it would have been far easier for us to have simply abandoned the process, demonstrates Council’s conviction that the decision we have taken represents the best outcome for residents and ratepayers alike.
Accordingly, I advise that Council will not revoke the resolution passed last week. I think it is important that our position be communicated quickly to you and other interested members of the community as I firmly believe that it is not in the interests of residents at the facilities to hold unrealistic hopes otherwise.
Since the decision, Council has taken steps to commence the due diligence process whereby the short-listed bidders can discover more information about the facilities in order to refine their offers into binding legal offers for Council to consider further. This is also an opportunity for Council to conduct further due diligence on these parties and also to negotiate in relation to such things as a covenant/section 173 agreement to restrict the future use of the land at Monash Gardens. As has been made clear to residents and family members throughout this process, we would be interested to engage with them in working through some of these aspects to assist with ensuring that we achieve the best transition outcome possible for existing residents.
I think it is important to address some of the points you have asserted in your letter. I disagree with your view that the process Council has pursued over the past four months has been flawed. Council had been consulting with affected residents, their families and the wider communities for almost four months prior to us making a decision last week. I think four months provided ample opportunity to residents of the facilities, their families and councillors to fully and comprehensively consider the issues and express a view.
I also disagree with your view that some councillors brought a closed or biased mind to this issue. Councillors have proactively considered, debated, wrestled with, reflected upon and refined their individual viewpoints on this issue over the past four months. In fact, I was unaware of the position of any councillor in terms of whether they did or did not support the sale process proceeding until a few days prior to last week’s Council meeting when councillors considered the draft recommendation at a briefing meeting. Even then, the position of at least four councillors was not known to me until they made contributions to debate during Council’s consideration of the item last week.
It is important to bear in mind that Council’s decision last week was the culmination of an exhaustive process of community consultation and an expression of interest (EOI) process which placed Council in an excellent position to determine an appropriate path forward. I think it is also relevant that by resolving to progress the transfer, Council was acting in furtherance of the professional advice and recommendation of its senior officers and the expert EOI evaluation committee. Of course, Council alone is responsible for our decision and I am not trying to deflect that responsibility, however, I am simply pointing out that the inference in your email that our decision was stubbornly, politically or otherwise unwisely made, is simply not accurate or fair. Indeed, our decision was the outcome of a long and careful process and aligned with the professional advice of Council officers.
I acknowledge that you and many others disagree with our decision. However, please be assured that those of us who are responsible for making it, have reached our position on the basis of considering all of the relevant information available to us, including the valuable representations which you and others have made to us.