THE embattled South Gippsland Shire Council is reverberating from another shockwave today – the resignation of its third councillor, Cr James Fawcett.
Citing a “dysfunctional” council, “ad hoc decision making” and an inability to achieve compromise due to strong sectional and personal interests within the council, Cr Fawcett has tendered his resignation to the shire CEO Tim Tamlin this morning, Thursday, February 28, effective from April 1, 2019.
Cr Fawcett told the Sentinel-Times this morning that he has delayed the date of his effective resignation so that he can attend the next scheduled council meeting on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 although there must be some doubt now about the council still being in office at that stage.
“I felt it was important that there be nine votes at the council table and also to provide time for a replacement to be found,” said Cr Fawcett.
Cr Fawcett agreed that a decision by council about the future of its CEO, made in closed session at yesterday’s council meeting, was a contributing factor as were issues around the development of the shire’s budget for 2019 in recent weeks.
He said he was unable to comment on either matter but it is believed the shire council voted last night to open applications for the position of CEO despite the fact that Mr Tamlin has already expressed an interest in continuing in his present employ.
Here is Cr Fawcett’s statement of resignation:
“It is with regret and some sadness that I announce my resignation from S.G.S.C. effective from 01/04/2019 having given my formal notice to our CEO today. I was elected to this current Council in November 2018 following on from the resignation of Cr. Meg Edwards. Her resignation was preceded by the resignation of Cr. Maxine Kiel. Both these councillors cited behavioural and governance concerns within the Council group. They cited bullying and intimidatory behaviour over two years as a significant reason for their resignations. Despite the appointment of a municipal monitor and his best endeavours things have not changed. I have witnessed similar behaviour by that same core of Councillors. Withholding information, misrepresenting conversations, restricting Councillor discussions, threats of legal action, ignoring obvious conflicts of interest and having little regard for convention, meeting norms or good governance. This has had a significant impact on the health and well-being of some Councillors and officers. I have observed a lack of leadership on crucial confidential matters and a lack of clear direction to Council officers. I have experienced reversals of Council direction and even a formal Council decision from one week to the next. I entered Council with the belief that two new Councillors would provide a circuit breaker to relationships and behaviours within the group. Despite efforts, this has not occurred. It is my opinion that some Councillors have allowed their personal objectives to override their duty to act in the best interests of the community. I am not prepared to be a party to or try to defend decisions this Council has made or is in the process of making. There are good people on Council. Just not enough of them. They recognise there are unresolved deep-seated issues. Those responsible for the problems will simply either stay silent, deny there is a problem or blame everyone else but themselves.” Signed Cr James D Fawcett (28-02-2019)
The news of Cr Fawcett’s resignation has prompted various responses online, including congratulations to Cr Fawcett for his service to the community and calls for the remaining councillors to be sacked and also one from fellow councillor Ray Argento as follows:
Ray Argento: “Disappointed political game playing by former Councillors.”
The comment seems to indicate that the former mayor Cr Argento believes purely political motives prompted the resignations of “former councillors” (including James Fawcett, Meg Edwards and Maxine Kiel) rather than genuine concerns about bullying and poor governance.
However, Cr Argento has denied this.
He has questioned Cr Fawcett’s motives but claims the “former councillors” he was referring to include councillors from the former regime including Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks who he claims did not agree to fill the vacancy on this council for political reasons rather than concerns about poor governance.
“I’m wondering what Jim’s intent was in accepting the position if he was going to resign three months later. If I was a ratepayer I would want to know that. What was his true intention when he accepted the position.
“He took a lead role in the budget discussions and also in the rating strategy and when the decision was taken about the CEO, he resigns.” Cr Argento said.
Cr Argento rejected claims made by Cr Fawcett that the bullying and intimidatory behaviour cited by the previous two councillors had not changed since the monitor was appointed.
“He has not expressed any concern about that to us. I have read his report. We’ll just have to wait and see what he says in that,” Cr Argento said.
The Mayor Cr Don Hill was asked for response earlier in the day and came out with the following comments at 4pm:
“Cr Fawcett has served as a Councillor in two previous Councils and for a few short months in the current term. On behalf of my colleagues I wish to thank Cr Fawcett for his efforts on Council and wish him all the best in his retirement from Local Government.”