TWO ratepayer groups have repeated their call for a state government inquiry “into the performance of the Mornington Peninsula Shire”.
It is the third time the groups have sought government action and comes eight months after the Local Government Minister Melissa Horne rejected their first request.
The groups have now told the Premier Daniel Andrews that a public satisfaction survey rating the shire at an “all time low” gives the government “a very commendable and indisputable reason for undertaking an independent review”.
“The appointment of a Commission of Inquiry is simply an investigation, not an indication of guilt and offers a means for improving performance,” treasurer/secretary of Mornington. Ratepayers’ Association Alan Nelsen and Nepean Ratepayers Association president Colin Watson stated in a letter to Andrews.
“It is also a way of the government avoiding any suggestion of conflict of interest now that a former councillor is a member of parliament.
“We are not asking for the suspension of the council or an administrator to be appointed, but simply a review.”
In a letter to Horne 13 days before contacting Andrews, Nelsen and Watson said they were at a loss as to why some action had not been taken previously which “may have prevented the further disappointing performance of the council and its administration”.
The 168-page “complaint” sent to Horne covers a range of issues, including the transfer of home care services from the shire to a private company, despite a previous warning from the Australian Services Union; alleged “improper behaviour and failures of governance in relation with the Tyabb Airfield” as well as a $350,000 payment by council to Peninsula Aero Club and an email obtained through freedom of information (FOI) between a former council director and its CEO.
The ratepayer groups question the reaction, or non-reaction, of the Local Government Inspectorate to “about a dozen” complaints about council from ratepayers and community groups.
“We note that there is no means to object to a Local Government Inspectorate’s officer’s decision, unlike other integrity, accountability and investigatory bodies such as IBAC, Victorian Ombudsman staff, and Victorian Auditor-General’s Office staff. That is, we suggest, that there is no accountability of the inspectorate.”
The ratepayer groups’ submission also covers actions and voting patterns (and social media posts) by individual councillors as well as public statements made by council officers.
The ratepayer groups ask the minister to review her July 2022 rejection of their initial request for an inquiry into the shire.
“Understandably, there are many human behaviours and events which occur within councils which are impossible for the Local Government Act 2020 and associated rules to overview and regulate.
“Much of this relies on personal ethics, skills, knowledge, respect, competency, ability to communicate, willingness to accept others’ views, personal interaction, good leadership and willingness to put aside personal ambition for the betterment of a team.
“Appointment of a Commissioner of Inquiry (or monitor) will not lower the performance of the council but simply offers the opportunity to improve its functioning, the community’s current poor perception and confidence, and address some of the important operational aspects of good management … We implore the minister not to ignore the community’s concerns but to take the simple and easy step to appoint a Commissioner of Inquiry.”