WANGARATTA councillor Julian Fidge is confident the council won’t be sacked after the Victorian government yesterday extended the tenure of municipal inspector Peter Stephenson for an unspecified period.
Cr Fidge has been a key figure in many of the incidents that led to Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell sending Mr Stephenson to Wangaratta on a three-month contract, which ended yesterday.
Mr Stephenson’s final report carrying a recommendation on whether the council be dismissed or not will be presented to the minister as early as today and a final decision announced some time next week.
But Cr Fidge confidently predicted yesterday the council won’t be terminated less than a year into office.
“I don’t see council in any danger of being dismissed,” he said.
“We have worked hard and complied with our legislative requirements in a timely manner.
“There has been a great deal of consultation with the community, and council’s plan and budget faithfully represent the will of residents.
“I have found the presence of the inspector helpful and welcome the extension of his appointment.”
Cr Fidge presumed the minister would want Mr Stephenson present when the council ticked off its budget this month and then turn his attention to unresolved staffing issues.
Chief executive Doug Sharp has had his sick leave extended for a month and management team members Ray Park, Ruth Tai and Graham Nickless remained off work.
Mr Park, Ms Tai, Mr Nickless and another director, Andrew Close, who is back at work, faced off with Cr Fidge at a recent Fair Work Australia conference.
“I expect Fair Work Australia will help us resolve our dispute with our senior officers shortly, even if we are forced to return to the commission to have the dispute decided for us,” Cr Fidge said.
Councillor conduct panels involving Cr Fidge, Cr Tammy Atkins and Cr Don Joyce also remain unresolved.
Mrs Powell said the extension centred on the uncertainty surrounding senior staff.
“I don’t want Mr Stephenson leaving and all of a sudden there is a void of someone to give guidance and support,” she said.
“The final report is about whether he believes there has been improvement and what he thinks should be done.
“The feedback has been there has been improvement, but a lot more needs to happen. It is in the council’s hands.”