Another dysfunctional council has been sacked by a state government, this time in Victoria, following a highly critical report by the auditor-general that followed a year of drama, again highlighting the strict limits on democracy at the local level.
This semi-regular occurrence in the local tier of government always raises questions as to whether the wishes of local voters are being respected and about the adequacy of integrity frameworks to prevent and deal with potential issues before they get out of hand.
Sackings in the south
The South Gippsland Shire Council has been dismissed after six resignations, one sacking and a commission of inquiry.
The councillors will be replaced by an interim administrator after Royal assent is given, according to a statement from the Andrews Labor Government released on Wednesday.
A commission of inquiry into South Gippsland Shire Council — conducted by three commissioners, including a former public servant with four decades of experience — recommended the dismissal of the council.
The inquiry found “high levels of tension” between councillors had harmed the council’s performance and reputation in the community.
The six resignations had weakened the council’s legitimacy, according to the report.
An interim administrator will be appointed before a full panel is established “to give ratepayers certainty around the shire’s governance and accountability”, according to the Victorian government.
Administrators will be in place for at least two years.
Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek said the dismissal of the shire will ensure that residents get a council that acts “in their best interests”.
“This is not a decision we took lightly; the commission of inquiry highlighted serious failures at South Gippsland Shire Council which required dismissal,” Somyurek said.
“We will now work towards rebuilding the council to ensure it can provide the first class services and representation the local community deserves.”
Cr Coral Ross, President of the Municipal Association of Victoria, had concerns over the dismissal.
“We seek an assurance from the Minister for Local Government that due process was followed before reaching the dismissal decision,” she said.
“We will further be requesting a briefing from the minister on the process to ensure local democracy is returned to the South Gippsland community in a timely manner.”
Appointments in the north east
Meanwhile, an interim management committee at Logan City has started working after nine council members were suspended earlier this year.
The committee will support the Interim Administrator Tamara O’Shea in “ensuring good governance and integrity”.
Minister for Local Government Stirling Hinchliffe said the six new committee members — including the four non-suspended former councillors — will provide “a breadth of support” to O’Shea.
Lisa Bradley, Laurie Koranski, Darren Power and Jon Raven are joined by Gary Kellar, who has more than 40 years’ experience in local government, including 26 years as CEO of Logan City Council, and Brent Lillywhite, a planning and environment lawyer.
O’Shea said she has committed to continuity of service, stable leadership and good governance, to “ensure a strong foundation for the transition to a new Council in 2020”.
…and in the west
In an interview with the West Australian, City of Perth CEO Murray Jorgensen said he plans to save ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars by reducing five executive posts to four.
Jorgensen was appointed in November after Martin Mileham was sacked, while the city’s remaining five directors all resigned.
In the meantime, the council is being run by McGowan Government-appointed commissioners, while an inquiry is conducted regarding “serious issues” on honesty, fairness, accountability and transparency.
The CEO stressed the importance of the change in the title “director” with “general manager” in the four executive roles.
“The reality is, normally a director is on a board representing shareholders, and that is quite different (to the role of a local government director),” he told the West Australian.
“We really wanted to emphasise that separation of powers, that a council or the commissioners in the interim are the board, they are the board of directors and we are the servants to deliver what they want.”
Jorgensen said there’s a distinct difference in culture between the senior ranks and frontline employees in the City of Perth.
“What I was demanding, and the commissioners were demanding, and I think the community and all our stakeholders expect, was that we need a high-performing executive team. I would have achieved that one way or another over time,” he said.
The four new general managers positions are expected to be filled within six weeks.
Jorgensen said working with the commissioners “is really important because they are professional, they are thorough, they don’t have any party or petty politics. They don’t owe anyone favours or anything like that”.
The Perth City Council was suspended last year after “years of scandal and infighting“.