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Lesson not learnt

SOUTH Gippsland Shire councillors continue to clash despite claims of a united team, and council spending $45,730 on panel hearings to address rifts in the previous council.

Tensions simmered at last Wednesday’s council meeting, inflamed by a report detailing the outcome of an appeal by Cr Don Hill against a Code of Conduct Panel finding against him.

His appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) exonerated him of the conduct panel’s finding he was dishonest with the community and had accused council staff of being misleading. The VCAT report brought an official end to personality clashes in the previous council that cost council $45,730 in panel hearings.

Tensions still remain between councillors Hill and Lorraine Brunt, who were both a party to the panel hearings, and disputes among the new councillors frequently occur at public meetings.

During discussion about Cr Hill’s VCAT appeal at last Wednesday’s council meeting, Cr Jeremy Rich accused Cr Meg Edwards of being adversarial when she called a point of order during his speech about the need for councillors to learn from the VCAT outcome and work collaboratively.

Cr Edwards said Cr Rich was not talking to the motion, which was to note the VCAT appeal outcome and withdraw Cr Hill’s reprimand and requirement that he undergo training.

Cr Edwards said Cr Rich’s claim she was adversarial was in breach of the councillors’ Code of Conduct.

Cr Andrew McEwen said “there was serious bullying going on within that (previous) council” and it was a “not a safe environment”. It seems the current council is no better, with an independent investigator probing allegations of bullying (see story this page).

Cr McEwen’s bullying claims prompted Cr Alyson Skinner to call a point of order, saying his commentary was irrelevant to the motion. Mayor Cr Ray Argento upheld that.

Cr McEwen said the VCAT report “was a total and utter vindication of Cr Hill” and demonstrated his “integrity” and “honesty”.

Cr Edwards called another point of order, saying Cr McEwen was off topic. The mayor rejected it.

Cr McEwen said the whole saga had damaged council’s reputation, the original complaints by then councillors were “frivolous” and claims by Cr Brunt the VCAT report had factual errors was close to contempt of court.

Cr Edwards again raised a point of order, saying Cr McEwen’s statement was an act of disorder. Cr Argento backed her.

Cr McEwen retracted his statement and said there was no bullying within the current council and it worked collaboratively.

Cr Hill took to his feet to read out the VCAT findings and stated “I have been exonerated of all the charges against me”.

He said VCAT had found then councillors Jim Fawcett, Mohya Davies and Brunt had made a political decision to make a complaint against him to damage his reputation and affect his chances of re-election last year.

He said those councillors should reimburse council’s expenses.

Cr Argento said while VCAT found the two Code of Conduct panels had been the result of differences of opinion, those differences had “cost the council quite significantly”.

The factual errors in the VCAT report alleged by Cr Brunt related to dates of hearings and a claim another councillor supported a report Cr Hill had written about council’s rating strategy.

“There has to be a better formal process to deal with differences between councillors,” Cr Brunt said.

Council voted to accept the report and withdraw Cr Hill’s reprimand and training order.

Seizing his chance: South Gippsland Shire Councillor Don Hill reads the findings of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal appeal that cleared him of wrongdoing.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=22355

Posted by on Aug 29 2017. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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