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Council Watch

THE imbalance in spending of ratepayers’ money across the Mornington Peninsula is starkly shown in amounts allocated for Australia Day, a national celebration aimed at bringing communities closer together. The latest figures presented to councillors show the disparity between money allocated to communities facing Port Phillip to those on the Western Port side of the peninsula. While representing just a small part of the shire’s $212 million overall budget, the Australia Day proposal further illustrates the widening gap in spending between the communities. Although not yet adopted, councillors were last week asked to give tacit approval – with a view to…

By David Gill* NEW planning provisions have been introduced state wide by the Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, without meaningful consultation. This may lead to further degrading of town and rural character on the Mornington Peninsula. The changes seek to avoid excessive site coverage of buildings and sealed surfaces but there is a stinging trade-off that allows new height “limits” of 11 metres in a general residential zone (GRZ). This could mean three-storey houses. The GRZ applies to all of our residential areas including coastal villages. Our planning scheme protective overlays may still apply, limiting houses to two storeys, but in…

THE value of building permits issued on the Mornington Peninsula last year was up more than 40 per cent up on the previous year. Data released by the Victorian Building Authority shows the value of permits was $1.08 billion – well up on 2015’s $769.2 million. It showed the value of building permits issued in the state was a record $32 billion – up 7.6 per cent on 2015. The shire recorded growth in the value of all building use categories other than Industrial, which fell despite an increase in the number of permits for the category compared with 2015.…

MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire celebrated the 20-year anniversary of its inaugural council meeting held on 20 March 1997 at the Rosebud Council Chamber. The occaision was marked with the cutting of a cake at Flinders Civic Hall. The first meeting was attended by nine councillors elected in the 1997 municipal election. The election followed the formation of the shire in December 1994 with the amalgamation of the former shires of Flinders, Mornington and Hastings. For the following three years the shire was managed by state government-appointed commissioners, Nick Hutson, Peter Newman and Jane Moffat. The shire’s first councillors were Bill Goodrem,…

MOST respondents to a Peninsula Speaks online survey believe that man-made climate change is real and that it will affect life on the Mornington Peninsula. “Although Mornington Peninsula Shire is to be congratulated on its recently announced roof top solar initiative on shire owned and operated buildings, 64 per cent of people believe that the shire should be placing more emphasis on climate change,” organiser Peter Avery said. “While support for renewable wind initiatives appears to be marginal at 58 per cent, renewable wave technology is supported by 71 per cent and an overwhelming 93 per cent would support solar…

MORNINGTON Shire Council already made significant steps towards transparency this year as a result of a Victorian Ombudsman’s investigation into council practices, according to the mayor Cr Bev Colomb. However, a report on the investigation has highlighted shortfalls in the way the shire, and several other councils, “serve the public interest” when making decisions. Ombudsman Deborah Glass released her report last Thursday (15 December) into the state’s 79 councils, Investigation Into the Transparency of Local Government Decision Making, which found that transparency was “a random matter” across the state. After gathering evidence from council staff, CEOs, mayors and councillors, Ms…

RUSSELL Joseph has been selected as the Liberal Party’s candidate for the seat of Nepean at the November 2018 state election. Mr Joseph is the electorate officer for Martin Dixon, a former education minister who has held Nepean for 14 years and the now-defunct seat of Dromana for six years. Anonymous “party insiders” were widely quoted by the media as criticising the choice of Mr Joseph as being counter the Liberal Party’s stated aims of wanting “renewal” and a more “diverse” parliamentary representation. The Liberal Party currently has seven women MPs in the 88-member Lower House (Legislative Assembly), Labor has…

ALL 11 of Mornington Peninsula Shire’s newly-elected councillors have been handed copies of a “Councillor and staff interactions policy”, which reminds them that the CEO is in charge of shire staff, not the ratepayer elected representatives. Councillors were not consulted about the policy before it was drafted and will now have to consult council’s governance department who will decide whether a request by elected representatives will be granted or denied. If a request is refused, councillors can raise the issue with council CEO Carl Cowie – the only officer appointed by councillors – or governance manager Joe Spiteri. The policy…

MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire acted quickly to remove electoral signs on Wednesday after being swamped by complaints about illegally-erected advertising. In an email to candidates last Monday, the council said that while it “recognises that electoral signage and advertising is a pivotal part of a candidate’s election strategy,” candidates must be aware of the shire’s sign policy. It warned candidates that illegal signs must be removed by Monday this week. But on Wednesday, the council rushed out a further email, stating that non-compliant signs will be removed “today” and all responsible candidates will be notified by the shire’s infringement enforcement department…

FOOTPATHS, foreshores … and frogs. There is seemingly no end – and some cases no relation – to the variety of issues and concerns listed by the 50 candidates for the 11 seats on Mornington Peninsula Shire Council. Easily added to the three mentioned above are “over development”, waste disposal, planning for coastal “villages” and, certainly an elephant in the room, how much councillors should be allowed to spend above their $29,000 a year stipend ($92,000 for the mayor). The candidates’ buzz word for this election is community. Although not a definable issue, community will be a frequent persuader used…

MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire councillors were on Monday poised to give themselves the right to spend an extra $14,000 over their four-year terms, bringing the total to $30,000. The success of the latest bid to define their entitlements could depend on one councillor agreeing to being paid travelling expenses of 76 cents a kilometre. A move to set new four-year spending limits – $16,000 for conferences and seminars; $10,000 education and training; and $1000 a year entertainment – missed out on being adopted on Monday 22 August by one vote. If voting patterns stayed the same on Monday this week, Cr…

TWO Mornington Peninsula Shire councillors who attended a United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris late last year have fulfilled their requirements to report on the trip and itemise their expenses. Councillors Hugh Fraser and the mayor Graeme Pittock spent 10 days in Paris and attended several other sessions, including the climate summit for local leaders and seminars on renewable energy, smart cities, waste, urban agriculture, low carbon development and water and climate finance. At the Monday 11 July council meeting, Cr Pittock said it was worth noting that there had been no conference fees, no public transport costs, and…

MORNINGTON Peninsula councillors are divided over a revised code of conduct that discourages them from making personal attacks on each other and sets out the process for dealing with bad behaviour. However, shire CEO Carl Cowie told The News he expects that the version of the code of conduct adopted at last week’s special council meeting will be signed by all councillors before the end of June. On Friday, the mayor Cr Graham Pittock said that while he did not agree with some of the amendments, councillors had no choice but to sign the code and “just agree to abide…

DETAILS of each councillor’s spending on allowances will not be released until Mornington Peninsula Shire’s annual report, possibly as late as October. Elections to determine who will fill the 11 places on the shire’s council will be held Saturday 22 October. Attempts to verify the delay in obtaining details about councillor spending with the shire’s communications manager, Mark Kestigian, were unsuccessful late on Friday. A message left on voicemail drew no response by deadline. No statement appeared on the shire website. But, if usual annual report practice is followed, the figures to be released will not be more than a…

IT WAS a small gallery that gathered at the shire’s Rosebud bunker for the council meeting of Tuesday evening, 15 March. And a diminished roll call of councillors: Anne Shaw and Andrew Dixon had been felled by ’flu; Lynn Bowden was also an apology. It was the day after the Labor Day public holiday and the festive feeling lingered. Fred Crump of Mornington had brought his kite, in the shape of an eagle, that had soared recently at the Rosebud kite festival. And he brought a question. Shire tree planting in Mornington Park, including a banksia that had been moved…

SHIRE staff have given councillors revised details of their spending on seminars and conferences during the current council term that began in late 2012, as directed at a meeting last month. The new information will not be made public until about 24 March, after councillors have met and discussed the figures. The News believes the revised information will require at least one councillor to repay a substantial sum above the $4000 a year each councillor can spend over their four-year term. The amount of the overspend is not known. Two councillors, David Gibb and Antonella Celi, were attributed with overspending…

THE first thing the alert observer noticed at the Monday 8 February meeting of Mornington Peninsula Shire Council was the changed seating arrangements for councillors. David Gibb was not sitting beside Hugh Fraser. He had broken away from the ward-by-ward seating arrangement, leaving  Antonella Celi sitting alone at the far left end of the councillor half-circle. Cr Gibb had moved to the seat usually occupied by Red Hill Ward councillor Tim Wood, beside Cerberus ward’s representative, Cr David Garnock. Cr Wood was ensconced beside fellow lawyer Cr Fraser, in Cr Gibb’s previous seat. Since it is not like Cr Gibb…

TWO Mornington Peninsula Shire councillors have overspent their seminars and conferences allowance, one by more than 92 per cent. Figures up to the end of January included in a councillor briefing show Cr Antonella Celi has racked up $30,810 against an entitlement of $16,000, which is $14,810 (92.6 per cent) above her entitlement. Fellow Seawinds ward councillor David Gibb has spent $19,147, an overspend of  $3147 or 19.6 per cent. Chief financial officer Matt Hubbard said the extra expenses incurred by Crs Celi and Gibb had been approved by “council resolution” for them to attend “additional professional education programs governed…

CAN it be the coming council election? A series of malignant New Year resolutions? Whatever it was, hopes were dashed early at last Wednesday’s first Mornington Peninsula Shire meeting of the year, a hope that good behaviour, forbearance or courtesy would be prominent in 2016. The chamber was brought to order by the calm, firm and admirable governance manager Joe Spiteri, who should never need to perform such a role for a meeting of presumed grown-ups. Perhaps it is not within his remit, but it needs doing. So normal has discourtesy to the chair and contempt for the public become,…

ANALYSIS THE state government’s recent move to tighten rules to control councillors and council staff raises some interesting issues, the basic one being: how much control should one level of government have over another? And secondly, how much control should council bureaucrats have over councillors? If, for example, federal politicians enacted a law giving them the power to stand down or suspend state MPs, how would the “inferior” state legislature react? Yet the Andrews government, through Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins, intends to do precisely this with new laws to “strengthen local governance and reduce councillor misconduct”. The legislation received…

AFFABLE new shire mayor Graham Pittock was given a damned good tryout at his first council meeting of 2015-16. He remained affable almost throughout the four and a half hours the meeting ran. Close to the end all smiles had faded. It was a heavy agenda, possibly too heavy for a single meeting. Some participants, despite this, adopted a leisurely pace, taking some items up side alleys and down the garden path. All this came to a head late in the night when tempers were getting frayed. Cr Pittock suggested one exasperated dissident councillor, Anne Shaw, might care to leave…

RESIDENTS wanting to help shape the way the shire council spends its income can have a say about the 2016-17 annual budget. Mornington Peninsula Shire is again inviting input from ratepayers as it develops a budget, which this time will be affected by the state government’s new rate capping rules. Victoria councils are facing the prospect of lower rate income, and will have to show “special circumstances” to increase rates by more than the cost of inflation. Rate capping will be introduced for the 2016-17 financial year, and the shire will have to find new sources of revenue to maintain…

Those anticipating a community meeting of Mornington Peninsula Shire Council at Somerville on Monday 26 October were gutted to learn of the change of venue to the Rosebud bunker. Reason: the Mechanics Hall is still under repair. No briefing, no meal – the gallery made do with a cuppa, a cream biscuit and a full agenda. LET us skip past the majority of the meeting and get to the point of interest – councillors’ consideration of yet another request for a design change to the Arthurs Seat Skylift proposal. On Council Watch’s calculation, this will be possibly the fourth or…

COUNCILS looking to get around the state government’s rate cap plan are believed to feel they have found an answer – special charge schemes, which are specifically excluded from the rate cap rules. Large city law firms who specialise in local government are advising councils, which hotly oppose the plan to end the pattern of big rate rises, on how to deal with the cap. Councils use special charge schemes to require landowners to pay part of the cost of such works as footpaths, bicycle paths, street kerbing and channelling, drainage, roadworks and off-street parking. Of these works, the Local…

THE seemingly long wait over, it was all eager anticipation on 14 October at the first Mornington Peninsula Shire Council meeting in almost a month – at least for the eager ratepayers who filed into the gallery to observe democracy at work. There were … oh, let’s see … at least three or four of us. Councillors were not exactly tripping the light fantastic as they took their places. Their feet seemed leaden. CW sensed a frisson, always likely to produce some reportable highlights. They came, but CW was slightly repulsed by several of them. A significant sight for the…

THE “age-friendliness” of the Mornington Peninsula was a major topic at the shire’s first Positive Ageing Community Summit held on International Day of Older Persons, Thursday 1 October. That “friendliness” relates to transport, housing, social participation, respect, volunteering and employment, communication and information, community and health services, and outdoor spaces and buildings. About 60 attended the summit which brought together residents to reflect on the progress of the shire’s Positive Ageing Strategy 2013 – 2018: A Community for All Ages. A highlight was a comedy act by Evelyn Krape. It aimed to consider new and emerging issues in creating an…

GREAT sheets of silent lightning flashed over the Rip as Council Watch headed for the Rosebud meeting, listening in the car to excited radio speculation on who would be prime minister after this night. CW wondered what the Boon Wurrung (or indeed the Bunurong) made of dramatic celestial pyrotechnics back in the Dreamtime. They had not heard of Canberra. The restless sky portended rain. The restless radio appeared to be hoping for a warm change in Canberra, where the boxer and the banker were contesting Round 2 in their drawn-out bout for supremacy. CW recalled Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer:…

WAS it a Ghillie Dhu* or a Shellycoat* who, at the 24 August council meeting, spirited a packet of family assorted biscuits on to the hospitality table in the council offices foyer? Council Watch, noting a previous column that complained of a quality drop-off in the biscuits available at council meetings, felt he had overstepped the mark. He felt reproved. Here was a cornucopia of creams, a plethora of pastries suddenly arrived beside the glass jar of cookies provided for council-watching aesthetes. CW took a humble shortbread from the aesthetes’ jar as atonement for his previous curmudgeonly presumption. It turned…

FOR council watchers, the shire’s austerity drive is plain to see. It’s the biscuits. Now only a small jar accompanies the pre-meeting tea and coffee, a small jar bereft of cream treats. The gallery arrives at an hour where dinner merely beckons from the distant other side of the meeting closure, to find entry barred. And, once inside, not a cream bikkie to sustain oneself. One shivers in the cold, dark and rain, beating futilely with whitened knuckles on the locked armoured glass door (CW tends to gaudy prose when hypothermic), callously ignored by those inside luxuriating in the warmth,…

THE sound you can perhaps hear on the shire’s recording of its 27 July meeting is not what you might suspect. The ceiling of the Besgrove St council chamber was not about to collapse, nor was there a wee beastie in the room calling to its mate. And Council Watch hastens to assure readers that it was not a natural human sound – in fact, it was a creaking chair. A councillor who shall remain nameless was gently rocking as proceedings proceeded, probably accustomed to a rocking chair by the fireside, causing the rather fancy council seat’s torque spring to…