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Council's war of words

Moira Shire Councillor Kevin Bourke has alleged Chief Executive Officer Mark Henderson attempted to gag him to stop his input on budget deliberations.

RACHEAL WILLETT July 2, 2014 8:42am

The claim was made at the beginning of this month’s council meeting in Numurkah following an article published in the Yarrawonga Chronicle about Cr Bourke’s decision to put in a public submission to his own council’s budget.

Mr Henderson said, following Cr Bourke’s budget submission, “Every councillor can exercise their right to put in a submission. But once a sitting councillor does that they compromise their capacity to be an objective councillor on that issue.

“They can’t then sit and evaluate the merits of any submission, their own or anyone else’s. My advice, which I have given to Cr Bourke, is that he will now need to remove himself from any further council budget discussions.”

Mr Henderson, at no stage in comments reported in the Yarrawonga Chronicle, referred to the actions of Cr Bourke as creating a conflict of interest.

At the beginning of the Numurkah meeting, Cr Bourke said he had sought independent legal advice on the issue.

“I..being a democratically elected representative of the Moira Shire community…totally reject the information allegedly from the Chief Executive Officer, indicating that I cannot further participate in the Moira Shire Council budget determination,” Cr Bourke said.

Cr Bourke went on to quote the Local Government Act 1989 – Section 77A – which relates directly to matters concerning a conflict of interest.

“I allege that the information circulated by the Chief Executive Officer is erroneous and could be alleged as an attempt to gag a sitting councillor, or in fact could also be alleged to be an attempt to influence council’s budget deliberations and outcomes,” Cr Bourke said.

“I have, through my legal representative, taken the matter up with the Local Government Inspectorate, the Victorian Ombudsman’s Office and the IBAC (Independent Broad Based Anti-Corruption Commission).

“With regards to any claim for defamation, (or) character assassination, these will be treated as a separate issue.”

Municipal Association of Victoria Chief Executive Officer Rob Spence told the Yarrawonga Chronicle, the issue with regard to Cr Bourke’s budget submission related to procedural fairness rather than conflict of interest.

“From a position of public process and the public expectations for procedural fairness I can understand where Mr Henderson’s comments were coming from,” Mr Spence said.

“If a councillor puts in a submission to the council budget it is very difficult to argue that they are in a position to objectively evaluate that submission or the submissions of others on that matter.”

Mr Spence said he was unaware of any previous examples where a councillor has made a submission to a council budget. He said normally councillors would deal with their issues through normal debate in the council chamber as part of a formal meeting.

            

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