donhillAHEAD of tomorrow’s meeting to elect the new Mayor for the South Gippsland Shire Council, Cr Don Hill sent this ‘open letter’ to his fellow councillors:

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 ones wish to stand, it is another to make the decision of who to support BEFORE hearing the debate. What I am hearing is that 5 or 6 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.

On speaking to one of those 5 councillors later and hearing from Andrew and Jeremy, it appears that none other is actually prepared to say they have chosen already, instead, they have said that the decision has not been made! Now that makes someone untruthful. Council is a small world and anyone who behaves in any way duplicitous, will be found out by the others. We either all remain open and transparent with each other and follow the due process or we don’t-but it is not possible to pretend to be one when you are the other.

The previous Council made their decisions in closed council just like this and we all know the result of that.

I wish to address some of the points made to “justify” the decision to head down this path.

  1. A group of us deciding to make a clean break with the past council. It is the VOTERS who get to make that decision and I thought they had. They chose to increase support to Andrew and myself and reduce support to the other councillors. That allowed new candidates to emerge and gain election. Well done to all. I was of the view that after the voters had spoken that we the new council were to draw a line in the sand and start a renewal process. Now I hear that two of us are being left behind. That is NOT collaboration and it is NOT what the voters want. It also disenfranchises voters who supported Andrew, Lorraine [Brunt], and myself [Cr Hill] from the new council.
  2. I also heard whispers about myself and behaviour at the last council. Let me point out the facts. It was not my behaviour that was the problem. It was the behaviour of those now un-elected councillors who chose to run council by majority rule and ignore anything put forward by anyone else. Might I suggest that those who during the election period and earlier listened to now un-elected councillors who obviously had an axe to grind against me and Andrew should perhaps reflect that it might actually have been their fault? If you are unaware of the facts surrounding the last council and I think most have expressed that view since they were not there, that you give some credence to the view that the voters did know and made a decision. You should certainly not be rushing to judgement or blindly assuming what was whispered in your ears was the truth or had any merit of substance.
  3. We should be choosing the best person for the job-not excluding anyone because of their gender.

What does the local government act and governance standards say should occur?

Councillors must make decisions in open council and NOT make a decision ahead of that the debate for the motion at hand. That means one should not exclude a decision or whatever, until they have heard all the debate and weighed it all up.

Councillors should not horse trade the mayor position for decisions outside of that vote

Councillors MUST make the decision to support the best person for the job.

So, we are supposed to put forward our reasons for standing 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 2 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.

What this decision will achieve is a fractured council. Why do I say that? Put yourself in the shoes of the three Councillors who received those phone calls above. What would YOU think? I think I have been excluded because I was an existing Councillor and the bullying might now be continuing. Further, I have also been excluded because I am not female. I also think I might have been excluded because of misleading rumours spread by those now unelected councillors to those candidates who were associated with them in the campaign period. Are they not also tainted? They did after all associate with the previous councillors that the voters clearly voted down.

I have also heard that I have been accused of “if they don’t get elected as mayor/deputy mayor that they will run to the press and ……”

More similar behaviour to the last council-accuse and blame with NO EVIDENCE. Firstly, and for your information, we ONLY started writing letters to the press when it was beyond doubt that the previous majority group council was NEVER going to vote for ANYTHING we put forward BECAUSE we put it forward. Secondly, it is perfectly permissible and proper to write letters to the paper. Thirdly, we will be accepting the decision of Council next week whatever it is and working with that decision. If it is a bad decision because of poor governance and not following due process so be it but it will not be us who mention that again. I know people out in the community might find it a strange decision and would perhaps be disappointed since they (I believe) voted for the progressive change put forward by Andrew and I and they might wonder what the newbies were thinking and how they thought they could find their way through the process.

By making this decision guys, you will be putting this council back over 12 months. Seriously, you have all stated words to the effect that everything is confusing and there is so much to learn-a steep learning curve etc. Is it a good idea to exclude those amongst us with the experience and skills to help guide you through that time?

Are you aware that the administration is trying to keep control of council and you will be playing right into their hands? Do you really think the CEO is not capable of pulling the wool over your eyes if he wants to keep you in the dark over a process or possibility etc.? We know what we can do and what is possible and how to achieve that result. So, whatever this council group decides to do we can get it implemented because we know how that can be done because of our experience in the last 4 years.

Just look at the agenda provided by the CEO that takes us to February 2017. In ALL that time, ONLY one hour for councillors to meet amongst themselves for their OWN discussion topics. The last council had one hour every day that councillors met. Andrew and I believe we need more than that. True, CEO did agree to Andrews point to include the hour each day but he should not have needed to should he? How could any CEO expect a new council to NOT need time together unless they had a reason why they did not want us to meet?

In the previous Council I was excluded by the majority group who informed the CEO that the agenda should NOT be changed to accommodate my other commitments. Is this council to embark on this course of action also or will it not? We did not need a Tuesday session this week, we do not need to cram our timetable as has been done. A more streamlined schedule would have been possible if we had been allowed to meet as a group first and direct the CEO as to what we wanted. If of course, the group allowed the experience to suggest the way forward and the group had agreed to that way. Two councillors requested a late start for tomorrow-one had her wish approved on the spot, the other was just ignored.

We as a group should be meeting ourselves first before the CEO gives us a schedule because WE as a group MUST decide and direct the CEO as to how WE will want to manage the decision making process. If you decide to let the CEO lead until you feel that you have enough understanding etc. to take over then I fear that you will never get there because he will want to ensure that he is central to the process. The CEO and administration will direct the council.

You will make your decision on the day but unfortunately you will not be able to claim that it was made after following proper process. Choosing Ray and a female would acknowledge that belief. It would also be sending a signal to some councillors that they are not included.

I look forward to your