THE state-appointed administrators of the South Gippsland Shire Council are dotting the Is and crossing the Ts as they head towards September 21 when they go into ‘Caretaker Mode’ ahead of the October 22 council elections.
As far as possible, they want to eliminate the chance that another dysfunctional council will emerge from the election process by putting into place policies and structures that won’t be able to be unwound easily by destructive elements in the new council.
And a key policy, adopted by the administrators recently, was the new ‘Councillor Code of Conduct’.
The opening stanzas in the new policy make it clear that the bullying, the misogynistic behaviour, the long-winded inquiries and the lack of proper process which characterised the last council will not be tolerated.
“As the elected councillors of South Gippsland Shire Council, in honouring the trust our community has placed in us to lead the council and the shire, it is our individual and collective responsibility to strive to be a successful team.
“We acknowledge the best way to achieve success is by working collaboratively and respectfully together, valuing the diversity of skills, knowledge and opinions of others, and making informed decisions in the best interests of the whole shire.
“We appreciate there will be both challenges and achievements during our term in office. To this end, wherever we are, or may be perceived to be, representing council, we will draw guidance from our ‘Councillor Charter’ and ‘Code of Conduct’, so that our actions and behaviours continually align with the exemplary leadership our community deserves.
“We seek to be a council of which our community is proud.”
The new code is heavy on respect, the role of councillors, the separation of roles, on making informed decisions and on process, and it provides clear directions on how disputes between councillors, between councillors and members of the community and between councillors and staff are to be resolved.
It is also clear the administrators see the task of introducing an iron-clad code of conduct as one of the most important jobs they had upon being appointed by the state government in 2019.
Administrator Christian Zahra commended the new policy to the council for adoption.
“Over the course of the two years we’ve had together, we’ve all had very good relations and I think we’ve had good relations with the people with whom we work as well.
“But there’s always room for improvement in these types of documents because they help ensure that the types of good relations, positive interactions with the community and with the collaborative partnerships you must have to be effective in council, including with the tiers of government, etc, that they are very firmly established.
“I think that the new document that we’ve got in front of us today represents a significant step forward in terms of the Councillor Code of Conduct. It simplifies what was a much longer document of about 40 to 50 pages and down to something which is 26 pages.
“It describes, I think very strongly, the type of expectations that are required of everyone who’s participating as a councillor in the future and obviously ourselves as administrators.
“It is something I think that makes it more straightforward to deal with issues as and when they might arise, and it takes a more common sense and practical approach to the resolution of those matters, principally through the work of the mayor and other people who need to be involved in dispute resolution, rather than putting too heavy an emphasis on long-winded processes.
“I think this is a step forward, madam chair. It is a serious thing, serving on council, and I’m very keen to make sure that in putting this new policy in place, and people understand that we’ve put a great deal of care and effort into the refinement of this policy.
“We think it represents a significant improvement and as an administrator currently at the South Gippsland Shire Council, I will be pleased to add my signature, and live up to the standards and expectations that this code of conduct, requires us to live up to.”