CR AARON Brown is becoming increasingly isolated by the majority voting block on the South Gippsland Shire Council.
Last Wednesday, May 22, after two meetings to hear public submissions on the new budget, council plan and rating strategy; council held another meeting to which Cr Brown claims he was excluded.
“There was a confidential meeting, after the submissions, at the end of the day. It was a scheduled meeting that all councillors were advised about but I was told by the Mayor (Cr Don Hill) that because I wasn’t part of the group thing, I wouldn’t be able to attend,” Cr Brown told the Sentinel-Times this week.
“I did my own submission.
“I was told that I couldn’t attend because it was confidential and because I hadn’t involved myself in council’s response to the Municipal Monitor’s report.
“They said I couldn’t attend the meeting because there would be discussion about their response.
“But I couldn’t say what was actually discussed at that meeting now because I wasn’t allowed in the room,” he said.
“The question is, did they talk about their response, or did they talk about something else?”
Cr Brown said he was pressured to sign a confidentially agreement before he was allowed to attend the meeting, but he said he was already bound by councillor confidentiality and didn’t need to.
“I asked the Acting CEO (Bryan Sword) to question the mayor about why I wasn’t allowed to attend but he said simply it was a direction given by the mayor.
“I could have challenged his authority to do that, but I didn’t.”
Cr Brown said he hadn’t seen a copy of the shire council’s 130-page report to the Minister, but then again, he admitted, he hadn’t asked for one.
“But what could be in the report that would be such a problem?” he asked.
Asked about Cr Brown’s claims, the Mayor Cr Hill initially said by email:
“No, I did not exclude Cr Brown from a scheduled meeting last Wednesday. I never discussed a confidentiality agreement with him either. Sounds like more rumour mongering Michael.”
But, asked by phone to comment on the apparent difference in his account to that of Cr Brown, Cr Hill explained further.
“There was a councillor-only session which we cancelled,” Cr Hill explained.
“Councillors needed to discuss the legal advice we received,” he said.
The mayor claimed the legal advice he’d received related to the response to the Municipal Monitor’s report, despite the fact the council’s 130-page response had been submitted on Thursday, May 9, two weeks earlier.
“Cr Brown was not involved in that.
“He put in his own submission.”
He flatly denied Cr Brown was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement but then seemed to contradict himself.
“When we talk about advice from lawyers to their client, they require that only their direct clients are a party to that.
“We don’t want someone sitting in there taking notes who is not bound by that,” he said.
“He has to sign something to say he is allowing them to act for them (the council) and he didn’t.”
We asked if the council was using council’s appointed lawyers, Maddocks, and if not why not.
“We’re using someone else,” he said, declining to say why or even what the name of the legal firm is.
The Sentinel-Times understands the councillors have engaged Kellehers Australia of Burnley in Melbourne, experts in environmental law, town planning law, government relations and complex property law.
But there is now, allegedly a dispute over whether council, or the individual councillors will pick up the tab.
It has been reported to the Sentinel-Times that the shire received advice which approved making a payment of $60,000 by the shire (the ratepayers) for legal advice around the council’s response to the Municipal Monitors’ report, but that this is additional.
Costs of up to $100,000 have been quoted. Who pays?
Clearly the exclusion of Cr Brown and his unwillingness to sign an agreement will cause further governance problems for the council.