By Julian Bajkowski
Western Australian Local Government Minister John Castrilli’s crackdown on sloppy management has yielded another casualty after he suspended the Shire of Ashburton in the state’s iron-rich Pilbara region and ordered councillors into governance rehabilitation.
The WA government announced last night that the suspension “was effective immediately” and named Ron Yuryevich, Mayor of the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, as the commissioner to take over and manage Ashburton’s operations for at least six months as governance issues are resolved.
Ashburton is the second WA council to be suspended in just a month as the Barnett government takes a stick to slipshod management and questionable appointments, deals and procurement procedures.
In late November, Canning Council in Perth was suspended following an inquiry into how why its chief executive had been removed by councillors – a move that ultimately backfired and resulted in elected representatives relieved of their regular duties.
On 22nd November, just a day after Canning’s suspension was announced, Ashburton Shire President, Kerry White, issued a notice announcing that its chief executive was also being removed.
“Due to serious issues raised in a probity audit conducted by the Department of Local Government, the Council of the Shire of Ashburton had yesterday resolved to dismiss the CEO Mr Jeff Breen,” the notice said.
“An acting CEO has been appointed and will assist Council in relation to its legislative obligations and responsibilities to the community. That action is one of many necessary steps taken or to be taken by Council to address the findings made in the probity report.”
Details of the Ashburton audit are yet to be publicly detailed.
While governance challenges are not new to the local government sector, the rapid economic growth in parts of WA brought on by the mining boom has added pressure to the job of councils that would normally have small populations.
Mr Castrilli said the decision to suspend Ashburton came after the council was issued and asked to respond to a ‘show cause’ notice “which highlighted a range of concerns, including issues identified in a probity audit undertaken at the shire by the Department of Local Government.”
“I have taken this action because I am satisfied that there is sufficient evidence of failures by the council to discharge its duty to ensure that the shire performs its functions properly,” Mr Castrilli said.
“These failures were of a level of seriousness and duration, as to warrant taking that step in the interests of the good governance of the shire.”
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