By Michael Giles
“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”
So said Adolf Hitler, and he should know.
But it’s also an adage that has characterised the present, strife-torn South Gippsland Shire Council regime.
Tell a lie often enough and you might even start believing it yourself!
The latest lie repeated time and time again at last week’s South Gippsland Shire Council meeting is that the appointment of an Acting Chief Executive Officer on May 8, at great expense to the ratepayers, is about protecting democracy.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
What is actually going on here has nothing to do with such high and mighty ideals as protecting democracy and more to do with the gutter politics of retribution and finding a scapegoat in the event that Minister Somyurek suspends or dismisses the council.
If they are suspended or dismissed, council leaders including Don Hill and Andrew McEwen, the only ones left with any previous council experience, are going to want to say that it was “all Tim Tamlin’s fault” while also building a dossier of blame on former Mayor Cr Lorraine Brunt.
“We stopped the rot,” they’ll want to be saying when the next local government elections roll around in October 2020.
But if they do say that, it will be another lie.
They’ve been as responsible as anyone else for the poor governance and dysfunction.
Councillors also claimed last week that the decision by the Local Government Minister to cut short the appointment of his Municipal Monitor (“by four months”) has forced them to abandon their CEO selection process and opt for a stop-gap measure until the “muddied waters” swirling around South Gippsland have dissipated.
Again, another lie.
What the state government said at the time of Mr Stephenson’s appointment, on June 18 last year, was that while the appointment was for a 12-month term, there was a proviso: “If necessary, a monitor can recommend that the Minister take further governance measures.”
He made a recommendation alright!
So poorly did he apparently view the state of affairs at South Gippsland that he recommended to the Minister that “the Council be suspended in accordance with section 219 of the Local Government Act 1989 and an administrator be appointed”.
The council has been asked by Mr Somyurek to show cause why this should not occur.
And by the mayor’s own admission, few recruitment firms had so far shown interest in finding suitable candidates for the five-year CEO role. It’s not surprising.
It was further claimed last week by Cr Alyson Skinner that the appointment of an Acting CEO would provide some stability. Cr McEwen said the appointment of an “appropriately experienced and qualified” person from within the shire’s administration would provide reassurance to stressed staff.
Of course, they already have a democratically appointed CEO, someone who is suitably experienced and qualified, who is well-regarded by his peers, by his staff and whose reappointment, even until these present problems are resolved, would provide much-needed stability.
So, the real questions that should be asked are: What have they got against Mr Tamlin? What is it that they want the CEO to do that he has so far been unable to or unwilling to do? Why can’t he be asked to continue on at least until the next council elections in 18 months’ time? What’s the urgency?
We’re told by some councillors that Mr Tamlin isn’t pro-growth, that the shire’s planning department is slowing rather than facilitating growth. Where is the evidence of this? Have councillors debated the issue in open council or called for a report? What have THEY done about it?
Or are councillors covering up their own failings, including encouraging the likes of the Trease family to take their modest rural subdivision plans to VCAT where they got a much worse outcome than the council’s own administration had offered them?
Has Mr Tamlin resisted making cuts to the cost of administration in order to deliver rate relief or, as pointed out in Question Time last week by Korumburra resident Marie Gerrard-Staton, has Cr Hill talked a big game about a 10% cut in rates being achievable but instead voted for a 2.5% increase in the 2019-20 Budget?
What is really going on here is a lot more about the personal self-interest of our esteemed councillors and a lot less about what’s good for the ratepayers.
It’s no wonder then that the councillors are getting such a poor reception when they attend community functions, as Cr McEwen experienced at Fish Creek’s Anzac Day ceremony last Thursday.
The people have simply had enough.
In the absence of any good decision-making by the council, it’s hoped that any “appropriately experienced and qualified SGSC employees” invited by the mayor to apply for the position of Acting CEO decline to participate in this madness.