THE Local Governance Inspectorate says there is “insufficient evidence” to substantiate any offences under the Local Government Act in the lead up to Mornington Peninsula Shire adopting amended Governance Rules in October 2021.
David Walker, the inspectorate’s investigations team leader, said the shire’s “administration” said it had been “regrettable” that proposed changes to the Governance Rules had not been circulated to councillors before a meeting on 24 August 2021, but it had not prejudiced the outcome.
The inspectorate was investigating a complaint that the then mayor Cr Despi O’Connor, CEO John Baker and legal and governance manager Amanda Sapolu had acted against their own governance rules by not telling all councillors of the proposed amendments.
“Based on information obtained by the Inspectorate, the Inspectorate has concluded that there is insufficient evidence which would substantiate a breach, or an offence having been committed relating to the provisions of the Local Government Act 2020 (Vic),” Walker stated in a letter last month to Stuart Allen of Dromana.
Allen’s allegations were similar to those also made by Nepean Ratepayers’ Association and Mornington Peninsula Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association.
The allegations centred around the 11-member council having two factions, with one being kept informed through emails from O’Connor about proposed changes to the Governance Rules (“Majority rules on changes before vote” The News 18/10/21).
As reported by The News six councillors were kept informed about the changes in the weeks before the Tuesday 24 August meeting. The remaining five councillors were shown the final wording of the amendments proposed by Cr Sarah Race one hour into the debate.
Baker and Sapolu were included in the stream of emails discussing the amendments from at least 12 August.
Cr Susan Bissinger described the amendments as “a last minute ambush”.
Allen said the inspectorate’s investigation had been “at best, merely superficial” as he suspects that the shire provided a “nothing to see here” response to the Inspectorate’s enquiry, which the Inspectorate accepted without any further investigation.
“If the inspectorate had bothered to undertake just a small amount of research/investigation, they would have easily ascertained that the entire ‘process’ was not an example of good governance by local government,” he said.
“Whilst I accept that there may well not have been a material breach of various provisions of the Local Government Act 2020, I do believe that the actions of the Mornington Peninsula Shire were, basically, unethical and displayed very poor judgement in terms of openness, transparency and sound governance.”
Allen said that based upon his professional experience in dealing with the public service, “I consider the Inspectorate’s response to be nothing short of a disgrace”. He saw it as a “flick and tick exercise just to get it off their books.”
In a 9 June letter to Allen from the Local Government Inspectorate, municipal administration inspector Tony De Fazio reaffirmed the decision not to act against any shire officers or councillors.
“The Inspectorate concurs that procedurally the process and consultation could have been handled better however it does not invalidate the decision and adoption of the Governance Rules.”