By Michael Giles
SO, councillors, it’s the newspaper’s fault, this newspaper’s fault apparently.
According to Cr Meg Edwards, in her resignation letter last week, her fellow councillors spent at least part of the day last Wednesday, at a councillor-only briefing session, blaming the Sentinel-Times for the predicament in which they find themselves.
It’s a fanciful, ridiculous and potentially very expensive notion for the ratepayers of this shire that some councillors, a majority of councillors we are told, believe that there’s actually no bullying, belittling or abuse of other councillors and staff going on.
It’s the equivalent of believing the world is flat.
To suggest that when the Minister for Local Government Marlene Kairouz appointed her municipal monitor to the shire in June this year, she was acting purely at the urging of the Sentinel-Times is both deluded and insulting to the Minister.
At the time, Ms Kairouz said: “We have serious governance concerns about the South Gippsland Shire Council – that’s why we are appointing a monitor.”
The Minister went on to say that specific concerns included “council’s meeting procedures, current policies and processes to manage conflicts of interest and the management of confidential information.”
It’s not a fabrication. The minister has “serious governance concerns” and the monitor will soon be able to report his findings. It can’t have helped that both Mrs Kiel and Cr Edwards cited the incidence of bullying and poor processes on the council.
“Just because someone doesn’t make or pursue a formal complaint process of bullying, intimidation and harassment does not mean it isn’t happening,” said Cr Edwards last Thursday, noting that councillors had asked that it be addressed early in the council term.
Cr Edwards went on to say that she had a “final glimmer of hope” after the resignation of Maxine Kiel that council might be able to acknowledge where they are, that the behaviour has not been acceptable and make some changes.
The comment is right on the money.
It says in the Local Government Act that “before making a decision (to suspend/dismiss a council) under subsection (1)(a), the Minister must consider what steps the Council has taken to address and remedy the difficulties underlying the failure”.
So, the council could still save itself if it admitted it has problems and enacted a plan to make changes acceptable to the Minister.
This newspaper does not want the council dismissed with the prospect that it could cost the ratepayers up to $2 million to have administrators in place until the next local government elections in 2020.
But there appears to be no other way while those councillors on their own power trip, who are responsible for the bullying and abuse, refuse to acknowledge there are problems.
If and when the Minister calls a halt to this madness, she’ll be relying on a recommendation and report from her monitor, Mr Stephenson, and it’s highly unlikely the Sentinel-Times will rate a mention.