A “toxic workplace environment” where a bullying culture operated and ratepayers’ money was being wasted has sparked the dismissal of Wangaratta Council.
Victorian Local Minister Jeanette Powell this morning announced she was sacking the trouble-plagued seven-member council and introducing an administrator who will be in place until the 2016 local government elections.
“The Coalition Government is taking this action because the Wangaratta Council has failed to provide effective leadership and service for the community,” Mrs Powell said.
“The Rural City of Wangaratta Council has failed to meet its legal obligations to provide a safe workplace by allowing a culture of bullying and intimidating behaviour among some councillors towards staff to grow, impacting on staff wellbeing and leading to a large number of staff resignations.
“Bullying behaviour towards fellow councillors has resulted in one councillor resigning after taking WorkCover approved sick leave and in two other councillors threatening to withdraw from some council activities.
“The Council’s failure to govern effectively has seen $1.5 million of ratepayers’ funds wasted to date on councillor dispute procedures, Councillor Conduct Panels, legal fees, staff departures and temporary replacement staff.
“This waste of funds has taken the council from a budget surplus to deficit position for the current financial year and there is no end in sight to the drain on resources under this council.
“The toxic workplace environment has resulted in an unprecedented departure of the CEO and entire corporate management team.”
The move by Mrs Powell, which was announced at Parliament House in Melbourne, follows the appointment of Inspector of Municipal Administration Peter Stephenson to oversee the council in recent months.
It also comes after a probity audit conducted by Bill Scales recommended the Victorian Government dismiss the council.
Mr Stephenson had recommended the elected councillors be suspended or dismissed until the October 2016 local government elections.
The council has been beset with problems since it was elected last year.
Renegade councillor Julian Fidge has been accused of bullying, Lisa McInerney resigned from council after saying she was a victim of intimidation and mayor Rozi Parisotto has been abused and criticised over a lack of leadership through the crisis.
Last month former chief executive Doug Sharp and senior managers Ray Park, Ruth Tai, Andrew Close and Graham Nickless agreed to a mutual departure from the council which was expected to result in a $1 million payout.
Mrs Powell said a bill would be introduced into parliament today to allow for the council to be dismissed.
She said the action would help Wangaratta recruit new senior managers.
“If the Council is not dismissed, the Rural City of Wangaratta Council will be unable to attract a suitably qualified field of replacement senior managers, due to Council’s poor reputation, as illustrated by the difficulty in recruiting an Acting CEO,” Mrs Powell said.
“Without decisive action to remove the council, it is almost certain there will be further staff resignations, staff absence due to sick leave and further waste of council resources and missed opportunities.
“The community will miss out on business investment and continue to fail to secure government grants if the dysfunctional environment continues.”
Mrs Powell has asked Mr Stephenson to continue monitoring Wangaratta Rural City Council while the dismissal legislation is enacted.