COUNCIL is all but dismissed, with the action to be made official tomorrow through an act of parliament.

Minister for Local Government, Jeanette Powell’s media release is below:

Minister for Local Government Jeanette Powell will today introduce a Bill to Parliament to dismiss the Rural City of Wangaratta Council and appoint administrators until the next council elections in October 2016.

Mrs Powell said dismissing an elected council is always the last resort but the failure of councillors to address rampant bullying and intimidating behaviour towards staff and fellow councillors, and the waste of ratepayer funds had forced the Victorian Coalition Government’s hand.

“The Coalition Government is taking this action because the Wangaratta Council has failed to provide effective leadership and service for the community,” Mrs Powell said.

“The Rural City of Wangaratta Council has failed to meet its legal obligations to provide a safe workplace by allowing a culture of bullying and intimidating behaviour among some councillors towards staff to grow, impacting on staff wellbeing and leading to a large number of staff resignations.

“Bullying behaviour towards fellow councillors has resulted in one councillor resigning after taking WorkCover approved sick leave and in two other councillors threatening to withdraw from some council activities.

“The Council’s failure to govern effectively has seen $1.5 million of ratepayers’ funds wasted to date on councillor dispute procedures, Councillor Conduct Panels, legal fees, staff departures and temporary replacement staff.

“This waste of funds has taken the Council from a budget surplus to deficit position for the current financial year and there is no end in sight to the drain on resources under this Council.

“The toxic workplace environment has resulted in an unprecedented departure of the CEO and entire Corporate Management Team,” Mrs Powell said.

The Coalition Government’s decision follows advice to dismiss the Council, recommendations and reports from the appointed Inspector of Municipal Administration Peter Stephenson, an earlier Probity Audit undertaken by Bill Scales AO, the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate, the Councillor Conduct Panel process managed by the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) and a final independent evaluation of all the reviews undertaken by Mr Scales.

In his advice, Mr Scales concluded that the Coalition Government should dismiss the Wangaratta Rural City Council as soon as can practically be achieved:

“Wangaratta Rural City Council is so dysfunctional as to make the efficient and effective operation and management of the Rural City of Wangaratta unachievable under the existing Council.”

“During my interviews with those who had conducted these key reviews, the constant theme conveyed to me was that the behaviour and performance of the Rural City of Wangaratta Council was the worst that they had observed.”

Mrs Powell said that in his final report, Mr Stephenson the Municipal Inspector has recommended the elected councillors be suspended or dismissed until the October 2016 local government elections.

“Beneficial community initiatives have been delayed or scrapped as a result of the reallocation of council funds to address legal and staffing issues and the interests and needs of the community have been ignored.

“Of particular concern is that as we head into the next wet season, the Council has failed to deliver proposed flood recovery and flood mitigation works because project staff have been reallocated to fill positions made vacant by sick and absent staff,” Mrs Powell said.

“The Coalition Government has previously taken strong actions to try and support the Rural City of Wangaratta and help bring it back from the brink, but ultimately the councillors have refused to accept and act on expert advice to modify their behavior,” Mrs Powell said

Mrs Powell said the Coalition Government had:

·     appointed Probity Auditor Bill Scales AO to oversee an investigation into bullying allegations in January;

·     requested the Council to review and adopt a new Councillor Code of Conduct in April;

·     held a meeting with Mayor Cr Rozi Parisotto and the Minister in May;

·     consulted with the MAV on what assistance, guidance and advice the sector’s peak body could provide the struggling council and Mayor in April;

·     appointed an Inspector of Municipal Administration, Peter Stephenson to provide advice and guidance to the Council to address its challenges in May; and

·     commissioned a Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate investigation into 77 separate complaints of alleged breaches of the Local Government Act 1989 over the last 11 months.

“If the Council is not dismissed, the Rural City of Wangaratta Council will be unable to attract a suitably qualified field of replacement senior managers, due to Council’s poor reputation, as illustrated by the difficulty in recruiting an Acting CEO,” Mrs Powell said.

“Without decisive action to remove the Council, it is almost certain there will be further staff resignations, staff absence due to sick leave and further waste of council resources and missed opportunities.

“The community will miss out on business investment and continue to fail to secure government grants if the dysfunctional environment continues.”

Mrs Powell has asked Municipal Inspector Peter Stephenson to continue monitoring Wangaratta Rural City Council while the dismissal legislation is in the Parliament.

This post is part of the thread: Council Dramas – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

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