Ombudsman slams ‘dysfunctional’ Brimbank

By Rob O’Brien
Brimbank City Council has been slammed as “dysfunctional”, riddled with bullying and influenced by non-elected members with criminal pasts, in a report by the Victorian Ombudsman tabled in the State Parliament today.
In a scathing report the independent Ombudsman George Brouwer painted a picture of a council that was “dysfunctional and marked by in-fighting and interpersonal conflicts”.
Brouwer took aim at councillors’ conflict of interest, which “included placing their private interests first and using their positions to obtain confidential information”.
“It was clear that the council had split into two groups, the ‘ruling faction’ and the minority councillors, and that the council was unable to govern as a whole,” the Ombudsman said.
“One councillor referred to there being a ‘cold war impasse’ between the factions since May 2007. This impeded the council’s ability to function effectively.”
The report found that the council was influenced by individuals who held no elected local government office, including individuals prevented from holding public office because of criminal convictions.
“Their influence was exerted behind closed doors and at times for their own personal or political motivations,” the report said.

Brimbank Council chief executive Nick Foa said the Ombudsman’s findings would be a handy "learning tool" for other Victorian councils.

“I must also say that this is a report on what happened in the past,” he told the Brimbank Leader.

“We have a new council and we are working closely together to ensure that everyone is fully aware of their duties and responsibilities as elected representatives.”

The investigation into Brimbank City Council was triggered by disclosures made under the Whistleblowers Protection Act 2001 which included allegations that councillors had placed Brimbank at financial risk by directing that the CEO remove funds from a project in retaliation for a councillor’s failure to gain Australian Labor Party (ALP) pre-selection for the Kororoit by-election.

Further allegations included threats by one councillor to derail the budget if approximately $680,000 was not allocated to a sporting ground connected to the councillor’s family.

The Ombudsman also highlighted the misuse of council funds with $63,757 spent on mobile phone bills from 2005 to 2008 and pornographic material found on the laptops of two councillors.

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