When a new proposal is before council you expect the council to direct the CEO to research and assemble all relevant information and report back to a later council meeting.
The first part of the unanimous motion at the February Council meeting concerning the proposed “land swap” with the RSL covered this.
But in addition the council unanimously empowered the CEO to “develop and enter into a Memorandum of Understanding” with the Victorian RSL hierarchy and the Leongatha RSL branch.
What are the implications of this?
Several councillors stated that voting for the three-part motion did not imply a go-ahead for the proposed “swap”.
But no amendment was put forward to spell out this proviso.
Other councillors merely sang the praises of a big shiny new RSL project.
Not one councillor mentioned their duty to ensure that any eventual agreement should be as advantageous for the shire as for the RSL.
Actual debate on this important proposal was non-existent.
Why was the ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ included in the motion?
This language implies much more than entering into through investigation of relevant facts, proposed time-frames etc. The language implies negotiations and “understandings” (“agreements”?).
I suggest the reason for including the ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ is that the CEO wants to ensure that any eventual contract with the RSL is done by “private treaty” as outlined in the meeting agenda.
The normal statutory public process requires a proposal to sell shire land to be advertised so that public submissions can be made. Nothing at all was said about this in the open council “debate”.
The last time our shire tried to circumvent statutory public processes concerned land sales in Venus Bay.
Understandably this created an indignant outcry. That incident starred in the Victorian Ombudsman’s December report into transparency and lack of it in Victorian local government.
Of course the RSL could have planned their new development on a green fields site (for example south of the hospital), selling both their Smith Street sites on the open market. But perhaps they felt that offering a land swap with council would smooth the way for permits to expand their gaming facilities; or that a land swap would pose less financial risk; or that they did not want to contribute to the hollowing out of central Leongatha by moving to the edge of town.
Whatever the attitudes of local members might be, the Victorian hierarchy could be expected to be fairly hard-nosed in their approach to the proposal. Time will tell. But too much fancy footwork in the process could land council in the sort of controversy they seem so keen to avoid.
Wilma Western, Leongatha.