VICTORIAN Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell yesterday brought the axe down on the embattled Wangaratta Council.
Mrs Powell’s historic announcement in Parliament blind-sided the council, which has been under the threat of dismissal since May.
The council was given no formal notification of its demise.
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The mayor, Cr Rozi Parisotto, last night revealed she found out about the decision on social media.
She wasn’t formally advised until 4pm yesterday by Mrs Powell’s representative, Nick Foa, who had been sent to Wangaratta.
“I am very disappointed with the decision,” Cr Parisotto said.
“As mayor, I am also stunned at the way we have learned of the decision.
“To hear of the council’s dismissal through social media is outrageous and extremely disappointing.
“I think the other councillors are also in shock.”
A meeting of all councillors was to be held last night with some fuming about the handling of the announcement and eager to challenge some reasons given for their sacking.
There is no avenue for an appeal.
Mrs Powell yesterday introduced a bill to Parliament to dismiss the council and replace it with administrators until the elections in 2016.
The council is in caretaker mode until the bill passes both houses of Parliament.
Sacked councillors can stand for re-election.
Mrs Powell said a “toxic workplace environment” had developed at Wangaratta and the council had failed to meet legal obligations to provide a safe workplace.
It had allowed a culture of bullying and intimidating behaviour from some councillors towards staff to grow.
Mrs Powell did not name a councillor in her media release, but Cr Julian Fidge, who has been central to the dramas, turned the heat back on her by declaring she should be stood down for failing to provide natural justice to those involved.
Mrs Powell said: “Bullying behaviour towards fellow councillors has resulted in one councillor (Lisa McInerney) resigning after taking WorkCover-approved sick leave and in two others threatening to withdraw from some council activities.
“The council’s failure to govern effectively has seen $1.5 million of ratepayers’ funds wasted on councillor dispute procedures, councillor conduct panels, legal fees, staff departures and temporary replacement staff.”
Mrs Powell’s office could not name the councillors who had threatened to withdraw from council activities.
She was yet to fulfil her promise to release municipal inspector Peter Stephenson’s final report recommending councillors be suspended or dismissed until 2016.
Mrs Powell has had Mr Stephenson’s report for a month and her lack of a response has been criticised by the opposition’s local government spokesman Richard Wynne.
“While Mrs Powell fiddled, the council burned,” Mr Wynne said.
“At the very least, Mrs Powell must finally release the report into the council, which we can only assume provided some guidance in her decision to sack the council.”
Wangaratta is the first Victorian council to be dismissed since Brimbank in 2009.