MOIRA MESS: Documents reveal flaws that delayed probity audit

MOIRA Council has plunged into crisis with explosive documents revealing the reasons behind the delay of an independent probity audit.

The embattled council called for tenders to carry out an external probe of its “fiscal and operations” functions a month ago, but the unanimous decision hasn’t been acted upon by staff.

The Border Mail has obtained documents showing senior council staff have received legal advice highlighting shortcomings in the council’s procurement process in selecting the probity auditor.

The saga began last September but the process has been bungled with the council failing to call tenders in accordance with the Local Government Act.

Albury-based firm Rob Salisbury & Associates had been selected to carry out the audit at an agreed amount of $60,000 following a special council meeting in January.

But the council has received advice from Melbourne-based Russell Kennedy Lawyers including a 10-point summary of advice and suggested future actions.

They included advice that an original advertisement in September was not capable of initiating an expressions of interest process because it wasn’t circulated to all newspapers in the Moira area and the council would have difficulty proving the procurement process to date had been conducted with objectivity and fairness.

The advice also shows a probity audit initiated by the council cannot deal with matters relating to staff and employment and an offer from Russell Kennedy Lawyers to conduct the audit to “secure legal professional privilege for the resulting report”.

The Border Mail has also obtained the original conditions and terms of reference requested for the probity audit.

They include a review of expenditure of almost $50 million since mid-2010 in areas including flood grants and car fleet spending.

The blowtorch was also to be applied to internal financial reporting to senior management and councillors and the quality, adequacy and appropriateness of staff responses to councillor questions and requests.

The reasons that sparked the resignation of former chief financial officer Adrian Pawar were also to be investigated.

It was originally intended for the audit to be completed by April.

The council was contacted for comment, but senior management was unavailable to respond.

The crisis is breaking out on other fronts.

A Fair Work Commission hearing was held in Shepparton this week involving a Moira staff member and a court case is due to assess another staff related matter next week.

There was also a recent “please explain” meeting between Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell and Moira mayor Peter Mansfield and acting chief executive officer Peter Bertolus.

The Australian Services Union has again been called into investigate claims of workplace bullying and harassment.

Local Government Victoria executive director Nick Foa is also headed for Moira to discuss “appropriate councillor conduct and governance matters” as a result of the meeting between the minister, mayor and acting chief executive.

But there are concerns the local government department’s intervention has been insufficient after concerns were raised with the minister last August by Mr Pawar after he quit.

Moira Council will hold its next meeting on Monday and is in the final stages of employing a replacement chief executive officer.

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