Administrators appointed to run sacked Vic council

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday July 24, 2019

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Three new administrators have been appointed to run the South Gippsland Shire Council, which was dismissed in June.

The appointment comes amidst a year of scandal after scandal for Australian councils.

Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek announced Julie Eisenbise as Chairperson and Rick Brown and Christian Zahra AM as the administrators on the panel who will “deliver the highest standards of conduct, transparency and integrity to the local community”.

“The administrators will work as a team to ensure that the council is focused on governing in the best interests of the local community and providing first-class services,” Somyurek said.

The Andrews Labor government dismissed the council after six councillors resigned, one was sacked and a commission of inquiry found “high levels of tension” within the council that had impaired its performance and reputation.

READ MORE: Council shake-ups on all sides of Aus

Former Manningham City Council mayor Eisenbise will lead the panel. She was made an interim administrator in June to act in place of the council while the full panel was being established, and was also a commissioner during its inquiry.

Brown was a member of the RMIT Council for 13 years and director of the university’s commercial company. He has been a consultant providing policy and strategic advice since 2009.

Zahra is a public policy and strategy expert with experience in rural and regional development. He has held senior roles in government and not-for-profit organisations including serving as Member for McMillan in the federal parliament and as the former CEO of the Wunan Foundation.

The panel will act as the council effective from 24 July until the next council election in 2021, giving them sufficient time to “properly embed best practice” within the council.

A big year for dysfunctional local councils

South Gippsland is far from the only troubled council in the land.

In late June, WA Local Government Minister David Templeman appointed a former leader of the state Liberal Party, Paul Omodei, as commissioner to run the Shire of Perenjori council after more than half of its members resigned.

Templeman’s department had issued a “show cause” notice after 18 months of ongoing complaints about the council, but five of nine councillors decided to quit.

“It is disappointing when the level of dysfunction within a council requires intervention by the minister,” he said.

“Appointing the commissioner to the Shire of Perenjori until an election can be held in May 2020 will provide an appropriate amount of time to properly stabilise the operations of the shire and to provide good government to the people of the shire.”

This is not Omodei’s first dysfunctional-council rodeo, either. He is a former local government minister himself, and served in the role of the commissioner at the Shire of Cue in 2011-12.

A week later, Templeman suspended the Port Hedland council and appointed Mandurah city councillor and former member of state parliament Fredrick Riebeling as the sole administrator.

The suspension came after numerous complaints of bullying, poor decision making and in-fighting.

At about the same time on the other side of the continent, Queensland’s Palm Island Aboriginal Shire council was suspended, with public servant Gary Kleidon appointed as governance adviser and accountant Neil Michel put in charge of finances.

This followed an investigation by the Crime and Corruption Commission and a Palm Island council employee facing 24 charges of fraud in late June.

The charges are believed to be related to improper use of council-issued credit cards and bank cards, according to the Townsville Bulletin.

Also in Queensland, Moreton Bay councillor Adrian Raedel was stood down in late June after being charged with official corruption. Raedel was the subject of serious allegations in The Australian last year.

The CCC alleged he “corruptly received benefits including a sum of money, pre-paid travel, accommodation and advertising” and its investigation was ongoing when he faced court.

Earlier this year, nine council members were suspended from Logan City council after an investigation by the CCC. An interim management committee was installed in their place.

And finally, in Western Australia, the new City of Perth CEO Murray Jorgensen announced plans to reduce five executive posts to four in the council. Jorgensen had come to the council late last year after its former CEO was sacked and its remaining members resigned.

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