By Julian Bajkowski
Perth’s City of Canning is facing suspension after an inquiry by the state’s Department of Local Government delivered a withering report pointing to widespread dysfunction, micromanagement and alleged serious governance irregularities.
Issued late last week, the inquiry has recommended that the state government “suspend the Council under the provisions of section 8.19(1) Local Government Act 1995”.
The Department of Local Government also recommended a further inquiry be set up to deal with governance deficiencies that culminated in a breakdown in relations between a faction of elected representatives, including Mayor Joe Delle Donne and senior employees including the Council’s chief executive over how procurement deals were awarded to businesses.
The 476 page report contains a litany of adverse findings – many serious – against elected representatives that include an attempt to force out City of Canning Chief Executive Officer, Mr Mark Dacombe, by using previously discredited allegations of misconduct against him as a trigger to try and prompt his removal.
However in a spectacular own goal, the clique of Councillors who went gunning for their top administrator’s job are now themselves facing a fresh investigation that could lead to their removal and possibly prosecution.
“Given the unfairness of the CEO’s performance appraisal and the unsupported claims by the Mayor that during this appraisal he became concerned about misconduct of the CEO, the Inquiry concluded that the seriously flawed performance review and the subsequent allegations made by Mayor Delle Donne to the Minister for Local Government and the City’s legal adviser, Allion Legal, were a tactic to unjustly discredit Mr Dacombe,” the report said.
“These attacks were made to provide a basis for Mr Dacombe’s subsequent separation from the City and were an attempt to justify the Mayor’s action in suspending Mr Dacombe.”
Some of the most serious findings of the inquiry relate to how a group of councillors affiliated to the Mayor is alleged to have sidelined suppliers chosen through an arm’s length tendering process by council employees in favour of non-compliant enterprises preferred by some elected representatives.
One example cited includes how another firm, Civic Legal, found its way onto a procurement panel.
“The Inquiry found that prior to the Council decision introducing this particular legal firm onto the panel of legal services providers, Mayor Delle Donne and Cr Mason had been taken to lunch by representatives of this legal firm,” the report said.
“This lunch meeting was not disclosed to Council by Mayor Delle Donne or Cr Mason. Moreover Mayor Delle Donne did not disclose that he had engaged this legal firm in a private debt recovery action.”
It has been reported that Mayor Delle Donne has rejected this finding and said that the lunch equated to a bowl of chips.
Another set of findings points to alleged irregularities in how engineering consulting services were obtained by council.
The report details how councillors affiliated with the Mayor are alleged to have reworked normal tendering processes so that services from the father-in law of the Mayor’s daughter ultimately came to win work and then a senior position in the engineering section of Council.
“Part 4 of this Report provides details of the actions of the Mayor’s Group … in improperly influencing the decision of Council in relation to the recruitment for the Executive Engineering and Technical Services position,” the report said.
“Motions and amendments originating from the Mayor’s Group show there was a clear intention to prevent the appointment of the recommended candidates on two separate occasions.”
The report also found that: “By directly nominating its own selection of City engineering consultants, without any process to consider suitability, or without consideration being given to whether or not the decision was appropriate or lawful, Council interfered in the administration of the City.”
Other findings and allegations in the report detail how dominant councillors intervened on matters including what kind of rubbish trucks should be bought by rejecting the advice of evaluations.
The gravity of the Canning report has not been lost on the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) which quickly issued a statement urging councils to “take the opportunity to review their governance practices following the release of a report critical of the City of Canning.”
“I am encouraging all Local Governments to take the opportunity to examine the report and reflect on their own activities,” President of WALGA, Mayor Troy Pickard said.
“From my perspective, the report creates a catalyst for all Councils in the sector to reconsider their governance models and associated processes and to be proactive in pursuing best practice and good governance."
According to WALGA, it is Association policy “not to comment on issues related to a specific Local Government’s circumstances”.
Even so, the gravity and extent of the allegations contained in the report appear to have prompted WALGA’s chief to put some diplomatic distance between the group and its heavily criticised member.
“Whilst I’m confident that the situation revealed at Canning is not typical of the sector, it does represent a learning opportunity and should serve as a prompt for all to review their activities,” Mayor Pickard said.
“From my perspective, the report creates a catalyst for all Councils in the sector to reconsider their governance models and associated processes and to be proactive in pursuing best practice and good governance.”