‘Umpire’ to investigate Wang council

THE Wangaratta Council has plunged deeper into crisis with a Local Government Inspectorate inquiry to start in less than two weeks.

The inquiry will explore all matters that have been referred to the inspectorate since October’s council election.

The move intensifies simmering tension between newly elected councillor Julian Fidge and the council’s chief executive Doug Sharp.

Cr Fidge said last night he hoped the inquiry would lead to a monitor being appointed.

The first-term councillor confirmed he had contacted the Victorian Planning and Community Development Department with allegations mayor Rozi Parisotto had been pressured into calling a special meeting that, in his opinion, should not have occurred.

“I have asked for help and I think this is them helping,” Cr Fidge said.

“The inspectorate is the big stick and, if they are unhappy with anything, they will ask the minister to use their powers.

“I am hoping they will appoint a monitor to the council.

“We should be as least intrusive as possible when we are helping people with things like this.

“The least intrusive first step is to appoint a monitor to sit in on the meetings.”

Mr Sharp declined to comment last night and Cr Parisotto couldn’t be contacted.

A monitor was appointed to Ararat Council last year.

It came following an inspectorate investigation which raised “significant” concerns with the council’s operations.

The latest investigation at Wangaratta follows Cr Fidge’s request for a probity auditor to look into claims Mr Sharp had obstructed his role as a councillor.

The audit started in December and is being overseen by Bill Scales, who was appointed administrator of Brimbank Council after its sacking in 2009.

Terms of reference of the audit were recently discussed by Wangaratta Council in a confidential meeting.

Cr Fidge admitted the inspectorate probe had the potential to backfire on him.

“I am in a very comfortable position of not giving a shit,” he said.

“I am just trying to do the best I can for the community here.”

The inspectorate conducts investigations at all Victorian local councils on request, including spot audits and complaints of alleged breaches of the Local Government Act.

Cr Fidge has been highly critical of Mr Sharp since being elected last October.

“I am hoping he has the courtesy to resign,” Cr Fidge said.

“He has worked this way in the past with other councils.

“But this is a new council.”