AND so it begins…
One of the chief protagonists in the previous South Gippsland Shire Council regime, Cr Don Hill, is at it again.
He’s already started brow-beating the new councillors.
And in a leaked email he sent to all councillors last week, he has attempted the lay down the law as he sees it, ahead of the election of mayor this Wednesday, November 16 in the council chambers at Leongatha.
There’s a lot at stake, including a $75,000 allowance.
The email starts as follows:
“Yesterday I received a call from Ray (Argento) in the afternoon followed by calls from Jeremy (Rich) and Andrew (McEwen). The message from Ray to all three of us was clear. He had the numbers to become mayor. This news was very disappointing. Further to that news, was the news that the Deputy Mayor was to be a woman. Ray also stated that he had been asked by the others to be the mayor and the reason was that they wanted to make a clean break with the past council as those councillors were tainted and they also wanted gender balance.
“Now I feel the need to point out a few things about what occurred. Firstly, this chain of events broke the spirit of the agreement we had from our first and only meeting last week. This behaviour is not collaboration, it is factional decision making and leads to dysfunctional councils.
“The local government act states that we are supposed to make decisions in open council, not behind closed doors. Whilst it is fine to indicate one’s wish to stand, it is another to make the decision of who to support before hearing the debate. What I am hearing is that five or six councillors have already made their mind up and they obviously will be coming to council next week without an open, receptive mind willing to hear and act upon the debate in council.
“This is confirmed when I hear that the deputy position will automatically be excluding all male councillors from the possibility of being chosen.”
Cr Hill goes on to accuse councillors of being “untruthful” and “duplicitous”, of ignoring the experienced councillors he regards as being best for the job of mayor and of seeking to “disenfranchise” the people who voted for the returning councillors Brunt, Hill and McEwen.
More seriously, he has warned the new councillors not to “horse trade the mayor position for decisions outside of that vote” and to wait until the issue can be debated this Wednesday before making a decision.
“We are supposed to put forward our reasons for standing (for mayor) and why we should be chosen ahead of the other candidates. I am confident that when Andrew and I put forward our points, which we have already partially mentioned, that anyone weighing up all the debate could not select someone without prior council experience. It would be like selecting the CEO from someone who was working as a school teacher. Just not qualified for the role compared to someone with actual experience.
“Now, we are a new Council and there is a huge amount for the new councillors to learn. It will take two years at least to get to anywhere near that point and possibly longer. Our plan was to implement professional development for all councillors under the deputy mayor role so that all councillors could build capacity and skills. And now we hear that the decision is to be to select a novice in the role who will continue the role in its current form of ceremonial only.”
And he has complained that the deputy position has apparently been reserved for one of the female members of council in the interests of gender balance.
Coastal Promontory ward councillor, Ray Argento, has confirmed that he is a candidate for mayor but has declined to comment on Cr Hill’s email.
“I won’t comment on internal emails,” he said.
“But I have seen new councillors come forward before, accept the role of mayor and do a good job.
“It’s clear, after electing six new councillors, that the community wants a fresh start and that’s what we should be giving them,” Cr Argento said.
Cr Andrew McEwen, who is considering standing for mayor, said he was confident that the new council could work cohesively together.
“The most important thing is to have a highly functioning council that works together and I think we have the skills and the goodwill to achieve that,” he said.
An unsuccessful attempt was made to contact Cr Hill for further comment about his leaked email.
The ‘Special Meeting’ of council, incorporating the election of mayor will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, November 16 in the Council Chambers at 10.30am.
Councillors will also be appointed to the various committees including the all-important CEO Review Committee, the Audit Committee and West Gippsland Regional Library Board.