South Gippsland Shire Council will be the subject of a Commission of Inquiry after the local government watchdog recommended council be suspended.
Local government minister Adem Somyurek says the Commission will look at the stability of council, the behaviour of individual councillors, the process of hiring a CEO and the efficiency and effectiveness of governance arrangements.
The commission will have power to summon witnesses and seize documents and will have full access to council and its documents.
The announcement comes after a Local Government Monitor report provided to council on April 2 recommended that council be suspended and an administrator appointed.
“I am very concerned at what is going on at the South Gippsland Shire, the Commission – which has inquisitorial powers – will get to the bottom of it and I will table the findings in the Parliament,” Mr Somyurek said in a statement.
“Like the ratepayers and residents of South Gippsland, I want a stable Council that functions effectively, governs well, delivers the services the community needs and represents the area,” he said.
Mayor Don Hill said council welcomed the Commission of Inquiry but believed it would fail to find any evidence of poor governance or improper process.
On April 2 Mr Somyurek said a report from monitor Peter Stephenson had found poor performance at South Gippsland in terms of direction, leadership, culture, behaviour and decision making.
The report also noted the council has lost the support of a large section of the local community and been beset by internal crises, with four councillors resigning, and gave council 28 days to give cause why it shouldn’t be suspended. That deadline was later extended to May 9.
Minutes from a special meeting of Gippsland Shire Council on Wednesday say council has reviewed the monitor’s report and drafted a detailed 130 page response including a good governance action plan.
The plan was due to be submitted on May 9.
“In considering the Report, the Mayor and Councillors have identified areas where improvement can be made to their governance actions,” the minutes say.
Also at the meeting, the beleaguered south east Victorian Council appointed Bryan Sword as acting CEO, rejecting an application by former CEO Tim Tamlin’s, whose contract expires on June 24, to be reinstated.
Cr Hill said in a statement on May 6 that the committee hadn’t taken the decision to dump Mr Tamlin lightly.
“(The committee) felt strongly that the Shire needs a different direction going forward and that we would be best served by employing a new CEO to begin that journey, he said.
Mr Somyurek says he is still considering suspending the council.
“Suspending the council is still under consideration and the Council’s response and the final report from the Municipal Monitor will be carefully considered by the Minister and the Commission of Inquiry”, he said in a statement.
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