The City of Perth, popularly known as Perth City Council, has been a soap opera for a year or more. Now the State Government has had enough, and has declared the Council will be suspended, and Commissioner appointed.
WA Local Government Minister David Templeman has announced the suspension will take place from Friday 2 March. He has left the option open of dismissing the council altogether. The Council’s activities have been a long-running source of irritation to the State Government, and a source of amusement to many others, for some years now.
Perth City Council is a small council in terms of population, with barley 20,000 residents. It was once much larger, but in1994 its adjacent suburbs were broken off into separate local government areas. In 2016 it was enlarged slightly to include parts of Subiaco and other areas deemed to be an integral part of the city, such as Kings Park and the University of WA.
Small though it might be, it is very high profile. Because it covers the centre of the state’s capital and largest city, it has a Lord Mayor instead of a humble Mayor. That office has been held since 2007 by Lisa Scaffidi, a former airline stewardess and marketing executive.
Her term has been marked by controversy. In October 2015, the WA Corruption and Crime Commission Ruled that she had “signally failed in her duties” as Lord Mayor by accepting but not declaring a $31,000 trip to the 2008 Beijing Olympics from BHP, and other gifts from companies that had dealings with the Council. The CCC said she had committed acts of “serious misconduct”, but stopped short of saying she had acted corruptly.
The in May 2017 the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT)found her guilty of 45 serious breaches of failing to disclose more gifts. Premier Mark McGowan asked her to step aside while the SAT investigated the breaches. After continued pressure she did so in September, but she returned to duties in January 2018 after the WA Court of Appeal set aside the SAT’s orders.
In the October 2017 WA local government elections Lord Mayor Scaffidi lost her majority on the Council, with the election of a group of new councillors apposed to her policies.
It gets worse. The Council recently appointed its third CEO in two weeks. On 27 February Annaliese Battista replaced Robert Mianach, who went on leave stating an “unsafe working environment” after just a week on the job. He has replaced Martin Mileham, who took indefinite stress leave after claiming the Council breached the terms of his employment contract. It’s not a good look.
A special meeting of Council this week, held behind closed doors, voted to change the existing policy under which a departing CEO could choose their replacement. Lord Mayor Scaffidi was one of only two councillors who voted to support the policy.
As Local Government Minister, Mr Templeman has a number of options for dealing with the Council. The Government could suspend or sack the Council, or it could issue a ‘Show Cause’ notice, which would give the Council 21 days to explain why it should not be suspended for six months.
If the Council is suspended the Government can appoint a panel of inquiry, with powers similar to that of a Royal Commission, the investigate the Council’s activities and recommend what actions – including dismissal – should be taken.