There are many times a councillor may be faced with publicly having to comply with a decision made by a majority of councillors about which they hold a different personal view. This is the day-to-day reality of being an effective local councillor. Of course, it is the right of any councillor to resign if they feel they cannot uphold a council decision or decisions.
In his release to the newspapers, Cr Brown listed three reasons for his sudden resignation from South Gippsland Council:
Firstly, Cr Brown said: “When I was first elected in 2016 I never believed I would have to even consider such a decision… I don’t believe considering this large budget change… a 3% rate cut… at the last minute is justified since community consultation has already occurred and this issue was never previously raised, so why now?”
This decision, to consider the 3% rate reduction, is not a last-minute decision. It was approved of by council three years ago and has been in our four-year plan ever since. It was to be enacted within this term of Council.
The s223 submission process is a statutory process under the Local Government Act and entails council putting the draft budget out for a 28-day consultation process after which Council determines which submissions are to be adopted into the current budget. A submission was received in this process to enact the 3% proposal and came with a petition of over 340 signatures.
As a result of this submission, council called for an officer report to come to the June Council meeting to provide options to achieve this Council resolution. No decision has been made at this stage, a report has been called for as to how this decision can be achieved without cutting services.
The consequence to have a zero rate rise as a one-off rate reduction for the 2019/20 year will remove $1 million only from the 2019/2020 budget in the coming year. Over the next 15 years, council will be collecting over $800 million in rates revenue from the ratepayer. The one-off reduction in annual rate rises this year will hardly make a dint in that total.
Council is working on a project called Shared Services which will be implemented in the next few years. This work is projected to save 7% of the rate expenditure through working in collaboration with three other Gippsland councils to achieve large savings in costs. This would be around $2.8 million saved each year and clearly is higher than the $1 million in reduced rates from this year’s proposal.
Council has applied for a grant from the State Government for this project. We will find out in the next week if we are successful. The grant is possibly $5 million and has not been factored into the budget yet.
Council also included a policy into this year’s plan to produce a strategy to reduce the rate burden over the next 10 years. No cuts to services will be made to achieve this goal or the current 3% reduction in rates this year. It will be achieved by productivity savings and other projects this council is currently working on.
Secondly, Cr Brown cites the CEO recruitment and Acting CEO process as “…extremely concerning… I have already made statements as to my displeasure with that process.”
Under the Local Government Act, council must have a CEO. This process was begun in November 2018 and under the auspices of an independent chair as laid out in the new mandated CEO recruitment process as specified by the Government. The process was conducted properly at all stages. We had regular meetings this year and all decisions were properly made after due consideration. If we had not appointed the Acting CEO position, we would not have a CEO in place when the current CEO contract expired on June 24th this year. Cr Brown chose not to attend the majority of these meetings – I recall he only attended two.
Thirdly, Cr Brown states a concern for “dysfunctional councillor behaviours and decision making… an unwillingness to follow best practice governance processes and… a current culture that I no longer wish to be associated with”.
With the inclusion of four new councillors over the last six months, this refreshed council has experienced a growth in collegiate teamwork and strategic discussion. Different viewpoints are welcomed in council discussion as we look positively forward to the future new direction of council. Cr Brown chose to not participate with other councillors in the examination and response to the Monitor’s report.
Cr Brown’s significant number of absences from Council meetings over the last year, for various reasons, has left him no doubt, out of step with council discussions and resolutions that been made in his absence. Councillors attend council on average around 4 times per month. In the last 6 months, Cr Brown has only attended on around nine days. He has mostly been an absentee and not taken an active role in the decision-making process during this time. To now claim he cannot be involved in the decision-making process for ethical reasons appears a little disingenuous. The behaviour of the remaining councillors is not dysfunctional and Cr Brown not agreeing with a council decision does not make the outcome or the decision-making process dysfunctional either.
Mayor Cr Don Hill, Mirboo North.