THREE of Mornington Peninsula Shire’s 11 councillors are willing to comment about allegations of complaints being lodged about them – and against one another – with the Local Government Inspectorate.
One councillor sees the LGI as a “secret kangaroo court”, another states that he is legally limited in answering questions, while the third hoped that the election of Cr Anthony Marsh as mayor would ”shift focus from … negativity and concentrate on moving forward with a positive attitude”.
Several sources have told The News that up to 15 complaints – most, if not all, subsequently withdrawn – by councillors about their colleagues have been lodged with the LGI.
“There are no complaints to the Local Government Inspectorate regarding Mornington Peninsula Shire councillors,” the shire’s CEO John Baker told The News.
LGI’s senior communications adviser Steve Pogonowski: “We don’t disclose the number of complaints relating to individual municipalities, on the basis that a high proportion may be unsubstantiated and provide an incomplete picture of issues and concerns around local government.”
The three councillors who responded to questions about the rumoured complaints were Steve Holland, David Gill and Susan Bissinger. Those who did not respond were the mayor Anthony Marsh, Sarah Race, Antonella Celi, Debra Mar, Kerri McCafferty, Lisa Dixon, Paul Mercurio and Despi O’Connor.
Cr O’Connor, last year’s mayor, has taken leave of absence from council to seek election as an independent to the federal seat of Flinders (“Former mayor makes a run for Flinders” The News 13/12/21)
“The state Labor government has created, via the Local Government Act, a secret kangaroo court,” said Cr Holland, a board member of the Victorian Local Governance Association.
“This will not surprise anyone familiar with how our current state government operates.
“Councillors are gagged and prevented from discussing inspectorate complaints, which remain confidential unless an arbiter or the inspectorate determines otherwise.”
Cr David Gill said he had “never used the ability to lay a charge against another councillor with the Local Government Inspectorate”.
“I believe that is the only question that I can legally answer because of the incredible restrictions placed on councillors by state government politicians,” he said.
Cr Gill accused state MPs of hypocrisy for not applying the same “wide-ranging complaint rules and punishments” to themselves as was applied to councillors.
“I believe that the complaint system should be available for use with all publicly elected positions,” he said.
“The punishment for revealing further information to the public is severe and l regret that l cannot discuss your other questions.”
Cr Susan Bissinger said she had never lodged a complaint with the LGI about another councillor or been notified that a complaint had been made against her by one of her colleagues.
“I concur with CEO John Baker, as to the best of my knowledge there are no complaints to the Local Government Inspectorate regarding [shire] councillors,” she said.
“I was really hoping that our community would see that a fresh 2022 and the appointment of a new mayor would herald an exciting time for our shire.
“We certainly feel it within the councillor group and are looking forward to making positive, tangible change that will benefit our communities in a meaningful way.
“There is a lot to achieve on a local level and, by working together on the bigger items, we will be giving it our best shot to attain success. We have an energised attitude and are looking to listen and engage even more with the communities we represent.”
Cr Bissinger said she had been hoping “we could shift focus from the recent spate of negativity and concentrate on moving forward with a positive attitude” (“New mayor to seek council unity” The News 22/11/21).
“There will always be issues and, possibly, unhappy and disgruntled people, but as long as the rest of us can work together and remain optimistic we can get things done, eventually.”
Email to councillors
The email was sent to all councillors on Wednesday 16 February:
“Mornington Peninsula Shire CEO John Baker has told The News: “There are no complaints to the Local Government Inspectorate regarding Mornington Peninsula Shire councillors.”
However, The News has been told by several sources that more than a dozen complaints were lodged with the LGI during the term of the current council, which started in November 2020.
Have you ever lodged a complaint about another Mornington Peninsula Shire councillor with the Local Government Inspectorate?
If yes, how many times have you done so?
Have you ever had a complaint lodged with the Local Government Inspectorate against you by another MPS councillor?
If so, how many and what were the outcomes?”