Moira Shire Council will be placed under the microscope with Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell instructing Executive Director of Local Government Nick Foa to step in and “provide advice” to councillors and staff.FIONA BLICK March 4, 2014 3:25pm
The last time Ms Powell made this directive it was for the troubled Wangaratta Council which was then sacked after the same Executive Director made his recommendations to the Minister.
Moira Shire Mayor Peter Mansfield and acting CEO Peter Bertolus were summoned to a meeting with Ms Powell on Monday and the Minister spoke with the Yarrawonga Chronicle prior to the meeting saying she was “concerned” over allegations of poor behaviour by councillors and council staff.
"The community expects high standards of governance and behaviour of both councillors and council staff,” Ms Powell said.
“I will be meeting with the Mayor of Moira Shire Council today (Monday) to express my concern regarding the continued allegations that the council is not acting in a manner consistent with community expectations."
Cr Mansfield told the Chronicle on Monday morning he and Mr Bertolus would be meeting with Jeanette Powell but denied any knowledge of what the meeting would be about.
“I have no idea what the agenda of the meeting is,” Cr Mansfield said.
A spokesperson for the Local Government Inspectorate also confirmed there had been objections made against Moira Shire Council and said “the inspectorate has received information about potential offences under the Local Government Act and is currently reviewing the information”.
Directly after the meeting Ms Powell told the Chronicle she “requested that the Mayor and acting CEO meet with me to respond to and resolve concerns raised by the community about council’s ability to provide good governance”.
“The Mayor responded to a number of issues I raised with him and has asked for assistance from my department,” Ms Powell said.
“As a result, my Executive Director of Local Government Victoria will be shortly visiting the council to provide advice on appropriate councillor conduct and governance matters.”
Cr Mansfield also spoke to the Chronicle after the meeting saying “it was a very positive meeting on both sides and we are moving forward”.
“As the mayor I was very comfortable with this meeting, it went very well on our behalf,” Cr Mansfield said.
Moira Shire Council’s internal structure has taken a battering in the past six months beginning with the departure of Chief Financial Officer Adrian Pawar, who left citing a “toxic work environment” and “widespread financial mismanagement”.
Further to this, in sensational developments in October last year then CEO Gary Arnold’s tenure abruptly ended after councillors upheld a vote of no confidence at the ordinary meeting.
Mr Arnold’s sacking came on the back of the sudden departure of Director Shire Development and Liveability Paul Squires.
Council’s only response to the issue has been a one sentence statement confirming Mr Squires finished his employment with council on October 14, 2013.
In further drama, the shire’s audit committee was suspended in September last year, only to be reinstated less than two weeks later.
There has also been continued debate and stalling on a starting date for the Independent Probity Audit and most recently Moira Shire’s financial risk assessment has deteriorated, moving from low to medium concern, according to the Victorian Auditor General’s Office (VAGO).
Released at the end of 2013, VAGO’s report showed out of the six financial sustainability categories Moira Shire only recorded two low risk results, with a further three in the medium risk and one, the self-financing category, was considered high risk.
Moira Shire recorded the highest self-financing risk figure out of all large shire councils which indicates VAGO is concerned Moira has “insufficient cash from operations to fund new assets and asset renewal”.
In addition, Moira Shire recorded the third highest indebtedness rating for large shire councils in the state and also recorded the worst liquidity ratio.
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