Power to mayors under Jeanette Powell plan

Victorian Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell talks to the media at Wodonga yesterday. Picture: BEN EYLES
Victorian Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell talks to the media at Wodonga yesterday. Picture: BEN EYLES

LOCAL Government Minister Jeanette Powell has stood by the dismissal of Wangaratta Council by promoting additional powers for mayors to curb the behaviour of troublesome councillors.

Mrs Powell met Wodonga and Towong council representatives yesterday to outline local government reforms including a “three strikes and you’re out” trigger for mayors to remove unruly colleagues from meetings.

The minister denied the turmoil at Wangaratta was the catalyst for the changes.

“The behaviour at Wangaratta was something that could have been controlled better,” Mrs Powell said.

“The last thing a government wants to do is dismiss a democratically elected council.

“It is the last resort.

“The reason the monitor was put in there was to manage that behaviour.

“We had to take the unprecedented step of taking it into the Parliament and the Parliament dismissed that council.”

The minister introduced 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.

Mrs Powell also yesterday met Wangaratta Council which is being a led by a three-member team of administrators until the 2016 local government elections.

Former Wangaratta councillor Julian Fidge said last night the changes being pursued by the minister were unnecessary as far as Wangaratta was concerned.

“I have videos of council meetings and am happy to publish them to prove she is wrong,” he said.

“The council was not the problem at Wangaratta.

“The problem was the senior council officers and their continued, deliberate obstruction of council and democracy.”

Mrs Powell said the beefed up powers for mayor were to be used when all else had failed.

“The majority of mayors believe they won’t need the powers, but if needed they will be very important in controlling really bad behaviour and conduct,” she said.

“It will be behaviour which causes disruption to a council meeting.

“It is where it goes that extra step where councillors do bully, are intimidating and call each other names that are disrespectful.”

Mrs Powell said there were also provision within the proposed changes for mayors not to abuse their increased powers.

“There will be contingencies to make sure the mayor isn’t able to abuse the powers,” she said.