Councillors in clear, but how?

Julian Fidge interrupts Don Joyce during a meeting before the council was sacked. Picture: TARA GOONAN
Julian Fidge interrupts Don Joyce during a meeting before the council was sacked. Picture: TARA GOONAN

A KEY investigation used to help justify Wangaratta Council’s sacking last year has failed to pinpoint any breaches of the Local Government Act.

The Local Government Inspectorate’s probe into 77 alleged breaches were publicly mentioned by the minister Jeanette Powell and her municipal inspector Peter Stephenson as reasons why the council had to be dismissed last September.

The inspectorate this week sent letters to the key players in the alleged breaches, including Julian Fidge, clearing them of any wrongdoing.

It claimed a “thorough investigation of all complaints” had been carried out and there was no basis to take any further action.

The move has incensed Dr Fidge and former deputy mayor Paul O’Brien, with the two former councillors stating at no stage were they contacted to respond to the complaints levelled against them.

“These findings go to the heart of the natural justice we’ve been denied all along,” Mr O’Brien said.

“It is another demonstration that the minister and the municipal inspector’s comments and reports were devoid of factual data to justify the dismissal of council.”

Mr O’Brien had failed in a bid to access the complaints through freedom of information.

Another former councillor Tammy Atkins confirmed she had also received a letter this week stating there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Dr Fidge on a matter she raised.

But she said there was ample proof to justify the council’s dismissal within reports compiled by Mr Stephenson, Bill Scales and a councillor conduct panel.

The latter found evidence of bullying and aggressive behaviour and suspended Dr Fidge for two months, which he immediately appealed to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

“The Local Government Act was not built to deal with the situation Wangaratta Council found itself in,” Ms Atkins said.

Last month the minister announced stronger powers for the inspectorate including the power to examine serious misconduct of councillors and hand down stronger penalties.

In December 2012, the minister received complaints from Ms Atkins and two other former councillors Don Joyce and Lisa McInerney about alleged breaches of the act by Dr Fidge.

“The whole situation is entirely unsatisfactory,” Dr Fidge said.

“We have been exonerated, but from what?”