THE jig is up.
The Minister for Local Government, Adem Somyurek, has completely lost confidence in the South Gippsland Shire Council’s ability to govern.
He said so last week while appointing a Commission of Inquiry to look into the goings on at council, prompted by the flawed process for rejecting its existing CEO Tim Tamlin and appointing a new Acting CEO, Bryan Sword.
He also said that with the resignation of the shire’s fifth councillor, Cr Jeremy Rich, the council may also have lost its mandate to govern.
Only one person on the council has stood apart from the madness, Cr Aaron Brown.
He has emerged as the lone voice of reason from last week’s Special Emergency Council Meeting last week and has welcomed the announcement by the Minister.
“I welcome the inquiry, especially into what has transpired recently at Wednesday’s Special Council Meeting and the events leading up to the formulation of that meeting as I believe the truth will now prevail and there will finally be some justice for the ratepayers, community members and the residents of the South Gippsland Shire,” Cr Brown said.
“Delusional claims that there has been no wrong-doing will now be tested under oath,” he said.
“I am concerned that as a minimum the council has not been suspended while this inquiry is taking place.
“It is important that the inquiry is held as soon as possible so action can be taken to hold people to account and to resolve the problems presently facing the South Gippsland Shire Council.
“For the record, I want to reinforce that I was the only councillor to oppose the disgraceful and rushed process to appoint an Acting CEO.
“It’s important to state that the South Gippsland Shire is in charge of $1/2 billion in property assets, employing 270 effective full-time staff and for me, and I assume other councillors, to be given one hour to look at the candidates to run a business like that is totally unacceptable.”
During last week’s meeting Cr Brown urged councillors to step back from the process but his appeals fell on deaf ears.
In fact, the Mayor Cr Don Hill tried to stop Cr Brown from having his say.
Ultimately though, he pressed on.
Cr Brown’s speech
“Mr Mayor, I will be voting against this motion as I believe this entire affair has been rushed compared to what a normal CEO or Acting CEO recruitment process would involve. Many of the public view this process with alarm.
“I state clearly that my views regarding this agenda item have nothing to do with the candidates but with the process which has been undertaken.
“This Council only decided to begin and rush this process for an Acting CEO once they had voted not to renew the current CEO’s contract and then received a letter from the Minister on April 4 asking why they shouldn’t be suspended. They were given until May 2, 2019 to respond which was subsequently extended to the 9th of May. Once this occurred, the race was on, by some, to lock in a candidate before this date to ensure a “Captains Pick” outcome.”
Cr Brown said he had not been kept informed about aspects of the process including a communique sent to staff advising them that the search for an Acting CEO would be widened after Tim Tamlin was rejected as the only applicant.
“This is an utter disgrace and a damning indictment on the process. It is no wonder many people see this process as a flawed,” Mr Brown said.
He criticised council for agreeing a week was enough to make its most important decision and for providing an hour to consider the candidates.
“What an abuse of process and I absolutely refuse to make such an important decision in such a rushed and botched way.”
Cr Brown stood outside while the brief deliberations were made behind closed doors at last week’s Emergency Meeting, reiterating that he could not be part of such a “disgraceful” process.
“Another appalling aspect has been the misrepresentation during this process of a highly respected and distinguished individual in Local Government circles with an unrivalled record spanning 45 years. I refer to Mr Phil Shanahan who has been the Independent Chair of this Council’s CEO Committee. It is my clear understanding after listening to the Independent Chair’s advice that this process for the Acting CEO was unnecessary and potentially tying the hands of the administrator if one was appointed by not allowing them to make a short-term CEO appointment – under 12 months – if a long suspension or dismissal occurred.”
Contrary to claims made by the Mayor Cr Hill, that the process had Mr Shanahan’s imprimatur he claimed “he never supported the council’s decision to go through this process”.
He also rejected claims that the decision to appoint an Acting CEO had anything to do with democracy.
“Councillors, I ask you to vote this down and accept the outcome of whatever eventuates after May 9. You have lost the moral authority to make such a decision at this time as the sequence of events leading up to receiving the Minister’s letter were caused by you.”
Ironically, had a majority of councillors listened to Cr Brown, they might have saved their own hides.