Held back: Coral Ross. Pic: Boroondara Council website.
Boroondara Council has taken the extraordinary step of blocking one of its most experienced councillors from pursuing her bid to become the first female president of Victoria’s local government peak body.
The council, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, made the decision at the end of last year not to put forward experienced Boroondara councillor Coral Ross – an independent – as a delegate for the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), effectively barring her from standing for president or a seat on the board.
As well, councils which do not have a delegate are forbidden to submit motions at the state council or to vote in elections.
The decision appears particularly illogical given that Ms Ross is currently MAV’s Interim President and Boroondara Council’s representative until elections this March. She is also Victoria’s representative on the board of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), a position which she will also now have to forgo, and was Boroondara Mayor three times.
Ms Ross was elected to the interim presidency in November 2016 after long-serving President Bill McArthur was forced to stand down when he lost his seat on Golden Plains Shire Council.
Australian Local Government Women’s Association (ALGWA) Vic President Helen Coleman called the council’s decision ‘bizarre’ and ‘unprecedented’ and said the ruling was made behind closed doors. She said Ms Ross was the highest ranked female councillor in Victorian local government.
“It is a travesty that her local council has decided not to appoint a MAV delegate, a prerequisite to standing for election, and therefore depriving the sector of her leadership and of someone who has always been a strong voice for local government,” Ms Coleman said.
“I’m surprised regarding Boroondara’s actions from two perspectives: firstly not availing Boroondara Council of the prospect of having a much prized seat at the MAV’s decision making table and secondly what appears to be a deliberate and ludicrous decision to deny a highly respected councillor the opportunity to represent ALL genders on the leading local government body.”
She called it a ‘no win’ outcome for Boroondara and Victorian local government.
Ms Ross would have been the first female president in the organisation’s more than century-long history, had she been successful in her bid for presidency.
Ms Ross told Government News that she was “extremely disappointed” with her council’s decision not to nominate a delegate but said she accepted it. She would not be drawn into why the decision had been taken.
But former MAV Treasurer and ex-Administrator at Brimbank City Council Jane Nathan was more vocal about the council’s shock move.
“This retrograde action by some councillors elected to represent their community leaves me dumbfounded, and will be seriously questioned as more community groups are made aware of a decision that was taken behind closed doors,” Ms Nathan said.
“What is their agenda? There would be no other council paying money to belong to the MAV that would remove, not only their delegate, but the President. It’s like taking a double-barrel shotgun and blasting your council off the agenda.”
But Boroondara Mayor Phillip Healey defended the council’s decision in a December 2016 letter to Ms Ross in her capacity as Interim MAV President, saying the council would not suggest a delegate because it was concerned about ‘serious governance deficiencies’ within the state’s local government peak body.
While Mr Healey acknowledged that Ms Ross had tried to psuh for organisational change he said the council would not nominate a delegate for MAV because it was concerned “with the poor performance of the previous board”.
“Council is of the view that this is an appropriate means to demonstrate our continued disappointment with the MAV,” Mr Healey said.
MAV came in for criticism in a Victorian Auditor General’s Report ‘Effectiveness of Support for Local Government’ in February 2015 for not demonstrating how it supported the state’s local councils or delivered value for money.
MAV was lambasted by the Auditor-General John Doyle for behaving obstructively during the audit and refusing to be held sufficiently accountable to its members or government.
Ms Ross said the council had not yet decided yet to revoke its MAV membership.
A council report in August 2016 said that Boroondara pays $65,560 a year in membership fees to MAV but received more than $455,000 in savings, mostly from procurement.
Meanwhile, ALGWA said it may ask another Victorian council to nominate Ms Ross as it delegate, a move that it said was allowed under MAV rules.
“This is a highly unusual move, but so is that of a council refusing to appoint a delegate when they are a financial member and wish to reform the organisation,” Ms Coleman said.