Dubbo Regional Council has received a proposed performance improvement order (PIO) from the NSW government to make each councillor make a formal undertaking that they will ‘lift behaviour standards’ and subject the council to a compliance audit by an independent advisor.
NSW local government minister Shelly Hancock made a statement on Tuesday announcing that the proposed intervention was an important step for Dubbo Council after a ‘turbulent period’.
“The NSW government is becoming involved to ensure Dubbo Regional Council gets back on track,” Hancock said.
“This proposed PIO is intended to lift councillor standards of behaviour, ensure proper processes are followed, protect the health and safety of staff, provide strict supervision, and encourage community confidence in Dubbo Regional Council.”
According to reports by the ABC, Ben Shields resigned as mayor of the embattled Dubbo Council (effective Thursday), after councillors voted to impose a series of conditions on his return from medical leave. Shields viewed restrictions against him, including a ban on making phone calls without a council member present and monitoring of his correspondence, as designed to ensure he could not carry out his mayoral duties.
The ABC quoted Shields at the time of his resignation, calling allegations against him as “laughable”.
“The last few days I have been accused of so many things I’ve lost count,” he said.
“I believe there is a level of nastiness within the councillor ranks that most people would find repugnant.”
Dubbo council has seven days under the NSW Local Government Act to consider the proposed order and make a submission in response.
Under the proposed arrangements, each member of council is expected to sign a written undertaking that promises they will not bully or harass council staff, ‘refrain from any action of reprisal’ against a council staff member doing their duty, not to interfere with code of conduct matters, and use proper channels to raise allegations of wrongdoing against council officials.
The order will also implement a formal system to manage requirements from councillors to council staff via the council general manager to ensure that all requests are ‘respectful, reasonable’ and do not overstep their mark.
Transparency over payment of expenses to the mayor and councillors will also be required in accordance with the Local Government Act, Ms Hancock said.
“The NSW government will continue to monitor the situation closely.”
Councillors recently voted for the appointment of an independent investigator to review allegations of bullying and harassment in the workplace, including some allegations against former Mayor Shields.