MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire is about to appoint an in-house lawyer to provide “risk-based” solutions for its legal dilemmas.
The “corporate counsel” will report to the chief financial officer – currently Matthew Hubbard – and be responsible for legal advice and representation on a such issues as planning, commercial contracts, property transactions, governance, employment law, freedom of information and privacy.
While no salary range had been provided, The News believes an in-house lawyer is considered to be more cost-effective than the bills being clocked up by the shire from private lawyers.
Shire CEO Carl Cowie sees hiring a lawyer as being a “proactive” stance towards managing the need for legal advice on internal matters, as well as to “cover off” on the variety of local, state and federal laws and regulations that impact on the shire’s regular operations.
He declined to comment on how much the shire spends on legal advice.
A legal source told The News that about half of the state’s 79 municipalities employ in-house lawyers that focus on specific areas, but only about six have “corporate counsels” who report directly to the CEO or chief financial officer and have a brief covering all council-related matters.
The advertisement for the shire’s corporate counsel states the successful lawyer will need to “… possess sophisticated communication and engagement skills and be able to interpret and translate complex legislation into practical advice and risk-based solutions”.
The move to bolster legal efficiency comes in the wake of a long-running dispute among councillors over their expenses budgets.
Cr Hugh Fraser said that while two of his councillor colleagues, Antonella Celie and Anne Shaw, obtained legal advice over a recent expenses dispute “without council’s knowledge”, his recent request to shire management for legal advice on the code of conduct review was denied.