Victoria’s Local Government Ministry ignored 15 years of Councillor in-fighting, a revolving door of CEOs, exorbitant legal fees and expensive consultants’ reports before the Government sacked Whittlesea Council.
The Municipal Monitor Yehudi Blacher, who was appointed late last year was so disturbed by what he found he tabled his report to the Legislative Council three months early, on March 17th 2020.
In 28 pithy pages the Monitor notes:
20 ongoing investigations into Whittlesea Council, mostly by the Local Government Inspectorate
$500,000 spent on legal fees, more than half of that on disputes with former CEO Simon Overland
5 CEOs in five years
The CEO prior to Simon Overland terminated after 11 months while trying to overhaul Council governance
Two consultants’ reports since 2018 identified Councillors’ general lack of professional conduct
The Chief Municipal Inspector had to drop a disciplinary hearing against a Councillor because the Councillor resigned.
And Mr Blacher noted a key cause of all the bitterness, bullying and childish behaviour by Councillors was the mayoral allowance.
Mr Blacher says “The mayoralty was described at interview by one Councillor as the “golden ticket” with a salary in excess of $100,000 in addition to the prestige of the office.
“There can be little doubt that the single-minded pursuit of the Mayoralty and the factional ascendancy that goes with it has damaged good governance in the City of Whittlesea for much of the last fifteen years.
“In an eleven member Council with the factions split six and five, it takes but one Councillor to
change sides for power to shift from one faction to the other. One Councillor described being
in power as a “narcotic” and its loss as “traumatic”.(sic)
How is it possible that at least two Local Government Ministers, Local Government Victoria and the Local Government Inspectorate were ignorant of the festering dysfunction inside Whittlesea Council for more than a decade?
Whatever the reasons, the newly proclaimed Local Government Act 2020 won’t prevent another Whittlesea saga (or Casey Corruption) or resolve it any earlier.
In fact, the new Local Government Act provides two new reasons why Councillor infighting over money could get worse.
Firstly the new Act now allows Councils to have Deputy Mayor positions.
And secondly, Councillor salaries will be determined by the Victorian Independent Remuneration Tribunal ( VIRT) the very same Tribunal that gave our senior Ministers an 11% pay rise last September.
So there will now be two positions to fight over ….and they’ll be paid more money.
And ratepayers won’t have any say in any of it.