Minister suspends ‘change-resistant’ Council

Strathbogie Shire Council in north central Victoria has been suspended and an administrator appointed.

Anger at ‘schoolgirl comments’: Laura Binks

It comes after Municipal Monitor Peter Stephenson this week handed down his final report on the resignation-plagued council.

Mr Stephenson was appointed in May 2023 after a failure by council to resolve ongoing governance issues identified by a previous monitor, Janet Dore.

Mr Stephen says many of the issues identified by Ms Dore have continued and “appear to be resistant to change”.

“I consider the problems I have observed as resting predominantly with the Councillors,” he concludes.

“The ongoing lack of respect and goodwill between individual councillors and between some councillors and officers, is affecting the Council’s ability to perform its statutory role.

“Some councillors have demonstrated that they cannot move past previous conflict and repair relationships, and have little trust in the administration.

“This has had an impact on the administration’s ability and to provide the advice needed to ensure good governance.”

Council will be suspended until October 2024 when the next local council elections are due.

Circuit breaker needed

Local government minister Melissa Horne said the council had failed to fully appreciate and address problems identified in Mr Stephenson’s report.

Strathbogie residents deserve a council that serves their needs and it is clear from the work of two municipal monitors that a circuit-breaker is needed,” Ms Horne said.

“The Administrator will restore good governance so that local representatives can return in due course and properly fulfil their important roles.” 

Fury over ‘schoolgirl’ comment

The decision came a day after Mayor Laura Binks issued a statement expressing outrage that a fellow councillor had described her as a ‘schoolgirl’.

“This comment was made by a fellow Councillor and has continued to be reported on and rehashed in local media – meaning I’ve heard myself being referred to as such at least four times over the past week,” she said.

“Referring to a grown woman in a leadership position as a ‘schoolgirl’ is some of the most insidious sexism I have experienced publicly during my time as a Councillor.”

In November, Cr Binks called on the Minister for local government to release the monitor’s report and make a decision about Council’s future.

“We are experiencing multiple code of conduct breaches and regular unacceptable behaviour towards each other, the CEO, and the Council Officers. It is awful,’ she said.

“The failure to uphold these standards of conducts has led to a disrespectful and unsafe workplace and a failure of governance.”

Strathbogie Shire Council CEO Julie Salomon says the organisation is committed to the community and officers would continue to focus on delivering the services provided by local government.

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