Mayors to have more power

Jeanette Powell
Jeanette Powell

THE fallout from Wangaratta Council’s dramatic dismissal is still being felt with mayors to be given beefed up powers to remove unruly councillors from meetings.

Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell took the unprecedented step last September of introducing a special bill to Parliament to remove the council after she felt it had failed to provide a safe workplace and allowed a culture of bullying and intimidatory behaviour among councillors to grow.

The minister has appointed three administrators to replace the sacked council until the 2016 elections and the recruitment of a senior management team to work under recently appointed chief executive Brendan McGrath is under way.

Mrs Powell said the legislation would raise the standard of councillor behaviour.

“In the past some councillors have thought they can get away with unruly, disrespectful and inappropriate behaviour during council meetings,” she said.

“This must stop.

“Meetings are for important discussion and decision-making and cannot afford to be marred by inappropriate behaviour as has been the case in some municipalities.”

Mrs Powell made the announcement at the Victorian Local Governance Association mayors conference on Friday night.

“It must be remembered that councillors are elected representatives with a significant public role and the community expects them to maintain high standards of conduct at all times,” Mrs Powell said.

A review of councillor conduct and governance has been under way since May 2013 and legislation is now being drafted to be introduced to the Victorian Parliament this year which will give mayors the power to suspend misbehaving councillors.

The review coincided with the height of dramas at Wangaratta.

In early May last year former chief executive officer Doug Sharp called a staff meeting at the height of a long-running feud with maverick councillor Julian Fidge.

In the preceding days, Mrs Powell had met with former mayor Rozi Parisotto and signalled her intention to appoint an inspector to the troubled council, Cr Lisa McInerney quit and Mr Sharp collapsed at his office and was rushed to hospital.

“While most councillors conduct themselves appropriately and in accordance with their code of conduct, when they fail to do so these reforms will enhance the Act’s provisions for dealing with misconduct,” Mrs Powell said.