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Unions, whistleblowers and government intervention

Union representatives, politicians and Moira Shire staff, past and present, have hailed the decision by Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell to send in an advisor as a “positive” move.

FIONA BLICK March 12, 2014 11:52am

However, former Moira Shire Councillor and current Member for Murray Valley Tim McCurdy sent out a stern warning to the shire saying he was “not suggesting Moira Shire Council will be sacked but I am saying they are being carefully watched by the Minister’s office”.

“The problems surrounding Moira Shire are not something that has happened in the last week or month, this has been going on for some time,” Mr McCurdy said.

Mr  McCurdy spoke one-on-one with the Yarrawonga Chronicle last week over his concerns of allegations of bullying and council mismanagement in Moira Shire, about Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell’s meeting with Mayor Peter Mansfield and acting CEO Peter Bertolus last week and her decision to send in Executive Director of Local Government Nick Foa to give advice.

“I have spoken with the Minister about her meeting with Mayor Peter Mansfield and acting CEO Peter Bertolus to discuss the concerns she holds about block voting and the allegations of bullying,” Mr McCurdy said.

“Minister Powell clearly told me this was a ‘take notice, we are watching’ meeting.”

According to Mr McCurdy if Moira Shire Council chooses to ignore this advice the next step would be for Ms Powell to install a monitor.

“A monitor is a person who sits in on all council meetings whether open or confidential and after a set time will report back to the Minister with their findings,” he said.

“But Ms Powell has not put a monitor in yet, this is just the first step.

“When I spoke to Ms Powell she told me that during the meeting on Monday Cr Mansfield and Mr Bertolus admitted things weren’t going to well at Moira Shire Council and they welcomed the help and advice that will be provided by Executive Director of Local Government Nick Foa.”

Mr McCurdy said Mr Foa would not be at Moira Shire Council for long at all; it would only be similar to a day’s workshop to ensure that councillors were clear on their governance issues.

“I think it would also be a practical outcome if Mr Foa speaks with council staff as well on any issues they may have,” he said.

“I have had both councillors and staff come to me with their concerns on Moira Shire, I have also had anonymous letters sent to me, presumably from ratepayers, outlining their concerns.

“And of course, there has been a lot of talk in the community.”

Mr McCurdy resigned as a Moira Shire Councillor in July 2010 after he was preselected to be the Nationals candidate for Murray Valley.

The Yarrawonga Chronicle also spoke to Australian Services Union representative Bill King who said, while the situation at Moira Shire may seem dire, staff were “delighted” something is finally being done to address serious issues recently highlighted in the meeting between Ms Powell and Cr Mansfield and Mr Bertolus.

“Staff just really want the support of the community and I was told they are delighted the Minister has stepped; they are hoping that now something will be done,” Mr King said.

“A union meeting was held last Monday at the request of Moira Shire staff with more than 80 staff members attending.

“The staff at the meeting requested that I formally contact Ms Powell and ask if Executive Director of Local Government Nick Foa’s terms of reference could be broadened to include speaking to staff.”

He said staff were eager to have confidential discussions with Mr Foa to voice their concerns.

“Staff members at Moira Shire have told me they are feeling intimidated, are being bullied and are afraid to speak up in case their jobs are jeopardised,” Mr King said.

“They feel they have no one to turn to if there is a problem and these complaints are coming from all sections of staff, from the white collar managers to the workers on the street.”

Mr King spoke candidly of his opinions on the Moira Shire executive.

“I do not have a high opinion of the way Moira Shire has been operating,” he said.

“From what I have heard, staff have no confidence in the executive group from the CEO through to his management team.”

Ms Powell, Mr King and former Chief Financial Officer Adrian Pawar, who left Moira Shire in sensational circumstances last year citing gross financial mismanagement, spoke on ABC radio last week regarding the decision to send Executive Director of Local Government Nick Foa to the shire.

Mr Pawar ABC radio the appointment of a new CEO would be a “good start” in resolving some serious problems within the shire.

Ms Powell said in the interview that as well as “numerous” letters and emails sent to her from community members about their concerns, she had also been approached by people who spoke to her directly on issues with Moira Shire.

"The community expects high standards of governance and behaviour of both councillors and council staff,” Ms Powell said.

                                     

 

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