Watchdog receives record number of complaints

Victoria’s local government watchdog has recorded the highest ever number of complaints for a non-election year, with 421 complaints received and assessed in the past 12 months.

The Inspectorate’s 2018-19 annual report shows 29 investigations, many relating to conflicts of interest, were completed over the year, with some investigations lasting longer than 12 months.

Almost 600 inquiries were logged for future reference, and the Chief Municipal Inspector exercised coercive powers to get hold of documents or compel an individual to give evidence 11 times.

(Source: Local Government Inspectorate)

The trends in complaints reflected an annual 11 per cent increase over the last four years, the inspectorate said.

The report shows 421 complaints were received in 2018/19 compared to 397 in 2015/16.

The inspectorate initiated eight prosecutions including one that resulted in the conviction of a CEO and two councillors.

The prosecutions included:

  • A Wyndham councillor convicted over interest return non-disclosures
  • A former Murrindindi Shire councillor convicted over misuse of position
  • A Wyndham Council candidate charged over false documents submitted during elections
  • A Central Goldfields Shire Council CEO convicted over misuse of a credit card
  • Two candidates in Moonee Valley and Moreland Council elections charged over non-disclosure of information on campaign donation returns
  • A South Gippsland councillor charged with misuse of position

The report said resource constraints had presented challenges over 2018-19 but the Inspectorate would get additional staff for the upcoming year thanks to a boost in funding.

The role of the Chief Municipal Inspector will also be expanded leading into the 2020 general election.

“Throughout the year we continued to provide an avenue for the sector and the community to raise concerns or seek advice relating to the governance operations of councils,” Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf said.

He said he was pleased to see a key report into the relationship between the elected councillors and CEOs had been referenced in other state jurisdictions.

The Protecting integrity: leading the way – Managing the employment cycle of a council CEO report, published in February, has already had an impact of CEO employment processes and the state government is considering recommendations relating to contract terms, advisory committees and performance management, the report says.

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