Shire shambles


TWO former councillors could return to South Gippsland Shire Council after the resignation of a second councillor in a week due to allegations of bullying and intimidating behaviour.

The ex-councillors who could make a comeback are Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks and Jim Fawcett, who both told The Star they are considering whether to take on the roles should they be successful in countbacks of votes from the 2016 election, following the resignations.

Both men were often at loggerheads with current councillors Andrew McEwen and Don Hill in the previous council, and no doubt their rivalry would resume should they return to the council table.

Mr Hutchinson-Brooks told The Star last Thursday he was undecided whether he would want to be a councillor again.

Mr Fawcett said, “I’ll just wait and see how the dice falls and make my mind up on the day (of the countback).”

Cr Meg Edwards will quit council from October 30. Her position will be filled when the Victorian Electoral Commission holds a countback of votes from the 2016 election on October 31 at the council chamber in Leongatha.

Her impending departure follows the resignation of Cr Maxine Kiel on September 26. Her position will be filled by a countback of votes on October 22.

Cr Edwards and Cr Kiel represented Tarwin Valley Ward, for which Messrs Hutchinson-Brooks and Fawcett also re-contested at the 2016 election.

Both women cited bullying and intimidation by other councillors as among the reasons for quitting after a tumultuous two years of the council, which resulted in the appointment of a municipal monitor by the Victorian Local Government Minister Marlene Kairouz.

While Cr Edwards would not name councillors she felt were responsible for the bullying and intimidation, in her resignation statement she thanked councillors mayor Lorraine Brunt, deputy mayor Cr Aaron Brown and Ms Kiel.

Cr Edwards said while she had withstood the worst of the attacks – which included being shouted at when talking, inappropriate phone calls and emails with intimidating messages – she quit as she has no hope for the future of the council.

Mayor Cr Lorraine Brunt said the bullying had including put downs, condescending behaviour and poor attitudes.

The final straw for Cr Edwards came after last Wednesday’s briefing day for councillors.

Cr Edwards said last Thursday, “In a final glimmer of hope, for South Gippsland Council, there was an opportunity post Maxine Kiel’s resignation to acknowledge where we are, collectively as council. That behaviour has not been acceptable, that it needs to change.

“However, yesterday during our regular Wednesday briefing day, it was made clear by some councillors, they blame the local newspaper with the largest circulation, for council woes rather than shouldering some responsibility.

“As they are the ones that sit around the table and make decisions that the media observe and report.

“While I might feel compassion for those unable to demonstrate maturity and responsibility, I do not believe that this council is achieving for the community or that it has the capacity to do so and find remaining or returning to such a toxic environment, a dysfunctional council, untenable with my conscience.

“The decision making processes, lack of understanding and respect for good governance and acknowledgement by some councillors has been a growing concern of mine and one which negates any hope.”

She told The Star, “We are a council that is dysfunctional, that is not capable of being functional and I’m not going to be part of it anymore.

“The behaviour is still bad and there is no acknowledgement of it. I’m not prepared to waste a further two years of my life in that environment.”

Asked whether the bullying within council was grounds for a WorkSafe investigation, CEO Tim Tamlin said he was not aware of such allegations being reported to WorkSafe and such concerns had not been reported to him.

In her resignation statement, Cr Edwards said, “Just because someone doesn’t make or pursue a formal complaint process of bullying, intimidation and harassment does not mean it isn’t happening – it was made known through both emails (correspondence between councillors are public documents) and conversations, had been asked to be addressed early on in this term of council.

“Not having pursued a judicial process early on, was due to not being supported, a desire for change, not revenge, to wish to see the good in people, to not put yourself and others through the additional stresses and costs to ratepayers of such a process. But for me to take no action, plays heavier on my conscience.”

Cr Edwards thanked the constituents of her Tarwin Valley Ward and South Gippsland for their support.

“I would like to thank our wonderful and strong mayor Lorraine Brunt for taking action rather than turning a blind eye to behaviour that is inappropriate,” Cr Edwards said.

“To former Councillor Maxine Kiel, it was heartbreaking to hear your speech last week (September 25). You were on council for the right reasons, Maxine you have my full support. To Cr Aaron Brown you have taken a calm and measured approach in all matters.”

Cr Edwards was planning to take leave from council while contesting the state election as the Liberal candidate for the Legislative Council seat of Eastern Victoria Region, in November.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=26033

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