WANGARATTA Council is facing a $1 million payout to senior staff including chief executive officer Doug Sharp in a dramatic move aimed at escaping the axe from the Victorian government.
The council made the most stunning decision in its 19-year history last night when mayor Rozi Parisotto announced that Mr Sharp and senior managers Ray Park, Ruth Tai, Andrew Close and Graham Nickless had agreed to a mutual departure from council.
Cr Parisotto announced the decision, which had been brewing since last year’s local government elections, in front of a small group of shell-shocked staff members.
The fateful move has been made ahead of Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell acting on a report on the governance crisis compiled by municipal inspector Peter Stephenson in the past three months.
Mrs Powell is visiting Yarrawonga today and speculation is building she will travel to Wangaratta to reveal her much-anticipated decision on whether the council is sacked or not.
The meeting, called last night under emergency provisions, lasted 80 minutes.
The exit of the senior staff with a collective experience of more than 20 years at Wangaratta Council had the backing of Cr Parisotto, deputy mayor Paul O’Brien, Cr Noel Amery and Cr Julian Fidge.
Crs Tammy Atkins, Don Joyce and newcomer Col McClounan had fought to keep the status quo.
But rather than be the first Wangaratta Council in history to be sacked, the majority of councillors decided to make their move first.
Cr Parisotto, in a quivering voice, read from a prepared statement crafted with the help of lawyers about the departures.
The agreement followed discussions under the auspices of the Fair Work Commission.
The commission entered the dispute on June 13 and had a follow-up session in Wangaratta a fortnight later.
The parties were unable to reach a satisfactory working relationship and negotiations about the departure of senior staff began recently.
All parties agreed no public statements would be made about the decision.
Mr Sharp joined Wangaratta from Alpine Council in 2006 and had more than a year to run on his existing contract.
He was due to return to work after nearly four months’ absence soon.
Former councillor Lisa McInerney, who resigned earlier this year, predicted the exit of Mr Sharp and company could trigger further departures.
“Personally I am gutted,” she said last night.
“These are staff I worked with for 4½ years and found them to be of the highest standard, well respected in the local government arena and local community.
“This will bring the morale of staff at the Rural City of Wangaratta to an all-time low.
“It has been near rock bottom for six months and this will be the tipping point or nail in the coffin for them.
“This is so disrespectful from members of council and highlights many flaws in the process that has allowed this to happen.”