By Michael Giles
Kevin James Swallow summed up the situation at the South Gippsland Shire Council perfectly last week with a post on the Sentinel-Times’ Facebook page, as follows:
“They are too funny to stay there. Put them all on a reality TV show, it would be better than ‘Married At First Sight’ for a more realistic bun fight.”
Never a truer word was spoken.
Because the reality is that there is so much going on behind the scenes at the South Gippsland Shire Council, that can’t be reported, it would make your hair curl.
But, together with the problems at South Gippsland that are on the public record, is it enough for the Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek to suspend and ultimately dismiss the council?
It might surprise you to hear from me that I don’t know.
And the Minister clearly doesn’t know either.
In his statement last week, following the resignation of the fourth South Gippsland Councillor, he said he was “very concerned” and was seeking an urgent response from the Municipal Monitor about whether the upheaval can “negatively impact the ability of Council to provide good governance and or deliver services to its community”.
What he is waiting for is a catalyst to dismiss the council. When the State Government dismissed the Geelong Council it did so following a recommendation from the Local Government Inspectorate and at the Central Goldfields Shire, there were financial irregularities. Neither of those situations exist at South Gippsland.
So, he’s waiting on the report from the Monitor, who if he thought there were grounds for dismissal, would have been duty bound to mention it to the Minister before now.
So, it seems likely now that several new wood ducks will be drafted in to replace the departing councillors and we’ll continue on with the Mayor Cr Don Hill’s suggested, but unauthorised, “change of direction”.
Having involved himself in the future and performance of the South Gippsland Council, it will be up to the Minister to ensure that all remains above board as council embarks on its new direction.
If that new direction includes cutting back on bureaucratic expense and reducing the unfair level of rates on farmers and general householders, who are unable to pay the high rates, then good.
But if the changes seek to look after vested interests rather than what’s good for South Gippsland as a whole, then it will be up to the Minister to monitor that situation further and step in.
The one thing that might ‘bring it on’ now is people power and the first sign that the community has had enough could come at a public meeting in Leongatha’s Memorial Hall on Thursday, March 14 if that proposed meeting goes ahead.