By Michael Giles
DEPENDING on what happens in the Supreme Court tomorrow, when Tarwin Lower property owner John Zakula takes the stand to answer questions from the Local Government Inspectorate, it could be the beginning of the end for the South Gippsland Shire Council.
One way or another, Mr Zukula’s testimony, if indeed he is cleared to answer the questions, is expected to decide once and for all whether Cr Andrew McEwen is involved in the alleged leaking of confidential legal information relating to noise complaints by neighbours of the Bald Hills Wind Farm.
Cr McEwen has denied any wrong-doing.
He also claims the information wasn’t confidential anyway.
But there must be at least some possibility that Cr McEwen’s position on the council is at risk, if you go by the efforts of the inspectorate to date to implicate him.
We also understand that Cr Meg Edwards, announced as a Liberal candidate for the Upper House seat of Eastern Victoria, is set to make a statement about her future on council tomorrow.
In Cr Edwards’ case, this would trigger the arrangements for finding her replacement but the likelihood of someone joining council with the prospect of dismissal hanging over its head is a clear complication.
How Cr McEwen is penalised, if found to be in breach of the Act, is another.
And following the appointment of the Local Government Monitor to the South Gippsland Shire, we also understand that other councillors may be considering their future on what is essentially a dysfunctional council, so wracked with internal disputes and mistrust that it effects its usual operations.
It is expected that the Monitor will make his major report to the Minister soon and while it is unlikely that she will make a decision before the State Election on Saturday, November 24; the conflict of interest issues around Cr Jeremy Rich, the departure of Cr Edwards, the issues for Cr McEwen and general function and behavioral problems on council must certainly raise dismissal by Christmas as an option.
Now we also see a matter listed in the ‘Closed Session’ of council this Wednesday, September 26 as ‘Personnel Matter’ pursuant to section 89(2)(a) – personnel matter of the Local Government Act 1989.
One wonders what such a personnel matter might be given that the only personnel matter the council is authorised to deal with is one relating to the CEO and these have been covered off on at previous meetings.
So, one could speculate that the personnel matter actually relates to a councillor or councillors; further complicating the situation at South Gippsland.
In the light of this, the likely departure of one or more councillors and the prospect of dismissal, or at least suspension of the council before Christmas, the Local Government Minister should delay the election of a new mayor, which is reportedly consuming so much of council’s time at the moment.
It’s more navel gazing from our intractable council and we could do without it.