Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Ratepayers still demanding action

Concerned residents' petition is received by Mayor but demands for probity audit remain up in the air.

ROB HENSON July 9, 2014 3:36am

Delivery: Adrian Pawar and concerned residents and ratepayers marched around Cobram CBD, then handed over their petition calling for an independent probity audit to Moira Shire Council Mayor Peter Mansfield.

Angry ratepayers and Moira Shire councillors exchanged pleasantries and shook hands in Station St on Monday but their long-running dispute over a perceived lack of transparency in council activities seems far from over.

The group of residents vowed to step up protests if the call for a widespread audit is not taken seriously after handing their petition of 1097 signatures to Mayor Peter Mansfield.

About 20 protesters silently marched through the Cobram central business district and to the shire offices where they were welcomed by Crs Mansfield, Wendy Buck and Don McPhee.

The petition was quickly formed in the days before last month’s council meeting. Cr Mansfield at the meeting said council could not consider the document as it had not been formally presented.

Leading the march was former Moira Shire chief financial officer Adrian Pawar who said this was ‘‘semantics’’, with scores of protesters attending the meeting and discussing the petition.

‘‘No more games and no more semantics, we are serious about this,’’ Mr Pawar said.

‘‘If you don’t want to be open and transparent, then what have you got to hide?’’

The petition asks for an audit across all council activities, ‘‘fiscal and operational’’. The auditor would report directly to the mayor and councillors, with monthly updates made for residents.

Cr Mansfield thanked the petitioners and said council would consider the document ‘‘with due diligence’’.

‘‘We take into consideration your words on the petition,’’ he said.

‘‘And you can be assured all councillors are acting on your behalf and we’re doing what we think is right.’’

In February councillors unanimously voted for an independent probity audit but it was stalled because council had not called for tenders before awarding the contract.

At the June council meeting chief executive Mark Henderson said the resolution had not been enacted because there was an ongoing investigation by ‘‘a third party’’ and he was legally obliged not to act.

The petitioners also claimed council’s rate rise in its 2014-15 budget was unjustified in the face of alleged ‘‘wasteful expenditure’’, particularly in wages and external contracting. Rates rose 5.5 per cent, along with a 3.5 per cent rise in charges.

In April a leaked internal audit found a possible ‘‘42 significant breaches out of 65 samples audited’’ in council’s contract management processes, where aggregated payments over $150000 did not follow proper tendering procedure.

The petition will be on the agenda at council’s next monthly meeting on July 21 at 6pm at Nathalia Community Centre.

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