By Michael Giles

IF WHAT Cr Maxine Kiel says is true about the behaviour of some of her council colleagues, and their failure to rein it in despite repeated warnings, and we’ve every reason to believe it is true, the council is running very close to having itself dismissed.
And they wouldn’t be the first in the state to be dealt with in this way by the Minister for Local Government.
In summarising her year as deputy mayor, Cr Kiel spoke about the bullying, the belittling, the denigrating, the ridicule, the harassment and “continual tantrums” by fellow councillors, urging that it must stop.
And she warned that she has the proof to back up those statements.
That proof is believed to be in the form of dozens of vitriolic emails sent by some councillors to their colleagues throughout the course of the year, even if testimony about what has occurred at some of the ‘councillor only’ sessions is ultimately denied by the perpetrators.
Some councillors may seek to play down these accusations as Cr Andrew McEwen did in August this year when he said at a council meeting: “There is no bullying going on in this council. I saw real bullying going on in the last council.”
The fact is though that bullying is a serious workplace safety issue and if the Council and ultimately the Minister allows it to continue, they could be considered complicit in any fallout.
But far from accepting Cr Kiel’s remarks as fair warning, they allegedly prompted another tirade of emails threatening Code of Conduct breaches and the like.
We also believe that an even more serious cover-up is afflicting the South Gippsland Shire Council at the moment, allegedly around the failure of the council to table its own audit committee’s report about councillor expense claims.
It’s time council cleaned up its act where bullying is concerned and came clean on the issue of councillor expense claims, while also introducing rules that limit the time councillors have to make those claims.
And if councillors can’t behave themselves, the new mayor Cr Brunt should do away with the councillor only sessions.
If council doesn’t address these matters, there’s real potential for the Minister for Local Government to step in, a move that would ultimately cost the ratepayers both financially and democratically.
The message from everyone is: “Pull your heads in, forget self-interest and get on with the task of making South Gippsland a better place to live.”