budget_battleCouncillors vote to defeat a no confidence motion against the Mayor Cr Jeanette Harding at last week’s South Gippsland Council meeting.

AT THE height of a heated budget debate in the South Gippsland Shire Council Chambers last week, a no confidence motion was moved against the Mayor, Cr Jeanette Harding, by the main protagonists, Crs Hill and McEwen.
The motion was lost but it was symptomatic of a rowdy, unruly and even unseemly display by councillors in front of a packed public gallery, who were actually there on other business.
Crs Hill and McEwen also accused fellow councillor Jim Fawcett of playing the man and not the ball after he complained about their boorish and overbearing behaviour at budget meetings and their attempts to abuse the amendment process at last Wednesday’s council meeting.
“Let’s hear the next instalment in the fairy tale,” Cr Fawcett said at one stage also claiming that council officers tried to avoid contact with the two councillors.
The whole episode prompted strident criticism from veteran political observer, Wilma Western (see ‘letters) who was one of those in attendance.
“The past two council meetings were anything but shining examples of local democracy in action,” Mrs Western said.
“Procedural confusion now seems to be the order of the day; with the leaders of the two opposing groups repeatedly appealing to the Local Government Act on points of order.
“If you think nothing could be more off-putting to people in the gallery than this hostile nit-picking, you’re not quite right.
“Even worse than the arguments over procedure was the personal antagonism displayed by some councillors.”
The meeting descended into high farce at one stage when Cr Don Hill and Cr Andrew McEwen tried to move amendment after amendment, in opposition to the draft budget, which sets out a rise in the general rate of 4.9 per cent.
It also seeks to increase the take in rates and charges by almost 6.9 per cent.
One of Cr Hill’s unsuccessful amendments called for the withdrawal of $2 million from the shire’s Long Term Financial Plan, set aside for major extensions to SG Splash in Leongatha; including a hydrotherapy pool, crèche and gym.
The project is expected to cost as much as $3.2 million but relies on $1.6 million in government funding to get off the ground.
But that amendment and others were ruled out of order by the Mayor Cr Harding after Cr Fawcett objected that it was directly contradictory to the original motion: That the proposed 2015-16 budget be endorsed in full.
It didn’t stop council officers diving for copies of the Local Government Act and the relevant local laws in an effort to rule on several other challenges to the mayor’s rulings.
Cr Hill favoured a 2.5 per cent increase in rates, not 4.9 per cent and he made extensive suggestions for the rejigging of the budget and the Long Term Financial Plan.
He also accused the council of withdrawing capital support for the region’s outdoor pools after 2020-23 by cuttting $3.5 million from forward estimates.
All councillors too the opportunity to speak but in the end, the draft budget was endorsed and together with the Long Term Financial Plan, will now go out for public comment until Wednesday, April 29, 2015.