Shellharbour was no Wollongong, says GM

By Rob O’Brien

Nearly one year after Shellharbour City Council was dismissed and put under administration by the NSW Department of Local Government (DLG), the council’s general manager Brian Weir has said the sacking should not be associated with neighbouring Wollongong.

Weir, who will be presenting a case study on Shellharbour City Council at the 16th Annual Public Sector Fraud and Corruption Conference in Canberra next week, said people should not confuse Shellharbour’s governance problems with the corruption scandal that brought down Wollongong last year.

“It’s been difficult for people to get a handle on. Wollongong City Council was very easy to define, but once you get talking to people and discussing the issues, our problems were much broader,” Weir said in an interview with GovernmentNews.

In all 139 criminal charges were recommended over Wollongong’s sex-for-development scandal which included 20 against four former Wollongong councillors and a high ranking Labor official.

Shellharbour City Council was dismissed in June after a three-week inquiry by the DLG which found a ‘dysfunctional’ breakdown in relationships between councillors and staff.

Councillors also failed to demonstrate a proper understanding of their roles and responsibilities, the inquiry found, with disorderly council meetings.

“We had a breakdown in government, a breakdown in the rule of law, there was no sense of ‘hey, this is out of control let’s get back on track’ … the worse it got, the worse it got, the worse it got,” Weir said.

“It wasn’t uncommon for us to take 15 or 20 minutes to confirm the minutes of the last meeting. It continued to evolve and it’s hard for people to really latch on to it.

“We ended up with a group of people who simply could not work together.”

Weir said the DLG’s decision to appoint an administrator until 2012 helped improve governance within the council.

“The biggest difference we’ve noticed since the sacking is the reduced workload in that governance area – we haven’t got the continual interruption and now have a stability with the administrator on board.”

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