FORMER mayor Rozi Parisotto and deputy mayor Paul O’Brien have lodged complaints with the Ombudsman about Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell’s decision to sack Wangaratta Council.
The Local Government Inspectorate and the Department of Premier and Cabinet are also in the sights of the former councillors for their roles in the council’s dismissal.
Complaints were lodged with the Ombudsman’s office this week and Ms Parisotto and Mr O’Brien are requesting the Ombudsman, George Brouwer, also conduct an inquiry and the findings be tabled in the Victorian Parliament.
Ms Parisotto and Mr O’Brien remain shattered and angry about the minister’s decision to dismiss the council a month ago.
Mrs Powell introduced a Bill to Parliament to remove the council and with rare bipartisan support from the opposition Labor Party the council was out of office soon after.
The minister claimed the council had failed to provide a safe workplace and allowed a culture of bullying and intimidatory behaviour among councillors to grow.
Rebel former councillor Julian Fidge was suspended for two months for code of conduct breaches prior to the dismissal.
Mr O’Brien disputes a mention in municipal inspector Peter Stephenson’s report as not accepting the findings of a code of conduct panel which imposed the suspension on Cr Fidge.
In August, Mr O’Brien voted in favour of accepting the report, but has been unsuccessful with a request for Mr Stephenson to publicly apologise for the mention.
The Ombudsman complaint to the inspectorate relates to Mr Stephenson not providing natural justice to those adversely mentioned in the report.
The Department of Premier and Cabinet is in the sights of the former councillors over a Bill Scales report which also helped the minister justify the council’s sacking.
He was appointed to review reports into the council and decide whether the dismissal was warranted.
Mr Scales was the appointed probity auditor for a dispute between Mr Fidge and former chief executive Doug Sharp.
The Ombudsman complaint centres on his independence to provide such crucial advice to the department.
The Ombudsman has conducted recent inquiries at Brimbank, the previous Victorian council to get sacked, Darebin and Glen Eira, but not Wangaratta.
One of his recommendations from Glen Eira in March last year was for the introduction of “additional means” to assist councils deal with difficult councillors including the creation of an integrity commissioner.
Mr O’Brien said the complaint to the Ombudsman and the request for an inquiry was the only option available to challenge the minister’s decision.
“What was so serious in Wangaratta that the minister had to enact a new piece of legislation outside the Local Government Act?” he said.
“We hope the Ombudsman gives due consideration to the complaints we’ve raised and reports on them in Parliament for the benefit of ratepayers and all councils.
“We are hoping an independent set of eyes can bring the real picture to life.”