Today I have reluctantly resigned as a councillor of the South Gippsland Shire. This has been a difficult decision for me to make.
When I was first elected in 2016 I never believed I would have to even consider such a decision.
My decision is based on a number of factors including a toxic culture which isn’t conducive to constructive discussion and respect for different opinions. It certainly isn’t conducive to achieving good outcomes for our community.
Additionally, I have been concerned by dysfunctional councillor behaviours and decision making.
Finally, there has been an unwillingness to follow best practice governance processes and quite simply the current culture is one that I no longer wish to be associated with.
Some recent decisions and processes that have contributed to my decision are worth mentioning.
The CEO recruitment and Acting CEO process was extremely concerning and I have already made statements as to my displeasure with that process.
Most recently, the 223 special meeting and the 3 per cent rate cut motion where a report and more briefings were requested concerned me greatly. This process is totally contrary to the current proposed budget.
I don’t believe considering this large budget change at the last minute is justified since community consultation has already occurred and this issue was never previously raised, so why now?
The 3 per cent rate cut as I explained, if enacted, will strip the shire of $18.5 million of revenue over the 15-year budget projections by diluting the compounding revenue base.
Some councillors believe the rate cut can be justified by delaying key infrastructure projects particularly in the next four years in certain towns.
I believe this reasoning is untenable and inequitable for a region that needs better infrastructure to keep up with population growth, commerce, community and Industry requirements.
Some towns have received very little infrastructure upgrades since Council amalgamations in 1994 and delaying key projects and cutting services hasn’t been even remotely justified.
In proposing a 3 per cent rate cut, most of the councillors who voted for it have already been shown the dire financial consequences of this concept in numerous workshops in the last year yet are hell bent on revisiting this concept.
It needs to be remembered that the Shire was almost insolvent in 2004 and it has taken until the last few years to resurrect the financial position thanks to a competent finance team and competent councils of the past to get us to where we are today.
To consider the rate cut in a rate capped environment is not only fool hardy but will disadvantage and burden current and future members of this community.
As a councillor, once a motion is passed by council in an ordinary or special meeting, regardless of whether I voted against it I am accountable for that decision as the majority decision becomes the decision of council.
Consequently, I am no longer prepared to be personally associated with critical decisions for this Shire which I believe cannot be justified as ethical or following best practice decision making and governance processes.
Finally, I believe that it is the councillors who as a collective set the culture, behavioural standards and values for the South Gippsland Shire Council.
The culture and behaviours that I have seen predominately behind closed doors since 2016 have progressively worsened and I would now consider the environment as toxic.
I was optimistic that the decision making, culture and governance within council would improve with the appointment of the Municipal Monitor. However, things appear to have deteriorated further due to an apparent unwillingness to accept the independent guidance and I now believe the situation is not salvageable.
I am grateful to the voters of the Strzelecki Ward for voting for me in the 2016 election and it has been a great honour to serve this Ward and the entire South Gippsland Shire. It truly is a diverse area, home to amazingly resourceful and resilient people.
We also have incredible natural resources that are world renowned.
Almost every week I meet people who have moved to South Gippsland from overseas, interstate or intrastate who often say they wished they had have known about this hidden gem of a region earlier in life and moved to South Gippsland years ago. I believe we will only see more of this in the future.
To future aspirant councillors of the South Gippsland Shire I can only say please don’t let the last few years at this Shire put you off running for council.
The current circumstances will not continue forever and as a councillor you get to learn about new concepts, processes and projects almost every week that can potentially benefit your local community.
This coupled with the chance to meet local residents who are involved in a diverse range of community groups, projects and interests is a very satisfying experience.
I wish all ratepayers and residents of the South Gippsland Shire well for the future.
Aaron Brown, Wattle Bank.