by Michael Giles
“…the Sentinel-Times ‘newspaper’ appears to have come one step closer to bringing this council down”.
So said Cr Don Hill in a letter to the editor after the appointment of a municipal monitor to the South Gippsland Shire Council by the Local Government Minister Marlene Kairouz last month.
The letter was published in full by the Sentinel-Times.
In appointing the municipal monitor, which is one step away from dismissal, the Minister said: “Concerns have been raised about the council’s meeting procedures, current policies and processors to manage conflicts of interest and the management of confidential information”.
These things are not illusions, Cr Hill.
Someone leaked a confidential legal briefing to those taking action against the shire and the powerful Local Government Inspectorate is carrying out a serious investigation into those involved.
Rightly or wrongly, Cr Jeremy Rich has challenged the conventions, if not the law relating to conflict of interest by voting on Amendment C90, to which his family company made a submission, and by making a public presentation about the $1 million dam dispute his family has with the shire.
Even you, Cr Hill, would concede that it’s highly unusual for a serving councillor to make a claim of more than $1 million against his own shire.
And it’s a well-known fact that bullying and abuse has been rife at council meetings, especially those behind closed doors, and particularly in email correspondence between councillors, we’re told, and also towards staff.
I have personally witnessed a councillor abusing a senior staff member in a raised voice in public over allegations that she released his personal information.
To say that it was all the local newspaper’s fault is so laughable as to require no comment.
But Cr Hill has continued with his allegations, blaming the local press for the shire’s poor Community Satisfaction Survey result at the June 27 council meeting:
“The other thing with these results is that surveys are by people in the community. Now we do our best at council here, there is another aspect to this equation and that’s the way it is reported in the press. Now if the press report fairly, without bias, I’m prepared to stand by our record here but a lot of people just see that, those headlines that aren’t true, those headlines that are mischievous, in my opinion, and that feeds into the responses community do to these surveys.
“So, yeah, we’ve all got to play our part and be responsible and do our best bit but give credit where credit’s due. If something’s not right, point it out, that I think is the role of scrutiny, we should be transparent in this community. We all believe in that I’m sure but fairly represent what is happening and the community will start to influence satisfaction.”
Several councillors balanced up those remarks:
“Why does the community think we are performing so poorly? If we were a business we’d be bankrupt by now,” said Cr McEwen.
“Twenty-two percent of our community believe council’s performance has gone backwards, 69% of people are skeptical of council and 20% are our champions. That is a very telling result. 62% of people lack trust and faith in council, 60% say we have a poor reputation and 58% that we lack leadership,” he said, also commenting that the shire’s frontline services such as the library got a big tick.
Cr Meg Edwards said: “It starts with us the nine councillors.”
Cr Maxine Kiel said: “It’s our behavior and it’s our decision making that has not benefited us in this satisfaction survey.”
The point is that if Cr Hill continues to blame the press for the council’s woes, not only will he begin to believe it himself, someone else might believe it.
Better that Cr Hill clean up his own act first and he might start by making a personal explanation to the press of his dealings with the shire over his own property holdings at Mirboo North. If there is some action the shire’s planning department should be taking in this regard, they should get on with it and treat Cr Hill just like any other citizen.