Wangaratta Council exposed | Julian Fidge takes the stand


WANGARATTA Council’s senior staff members including former chief executive Doug Sharp were “upset and aggrieved” by the 2012 election outcome, according to former councillor Julian Fidge.

Dr Fidge’s observation was made during a marathon day in the witness box at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal yesterday.

“They felt the election was somehow wrong and the council was sacked because of the tantrum they threw,” Dr Fidge said.

On the second day of his appeal against misconduct charges issued by a councillor conduct panel before the council was dismissed last year, Dr Fidge was grilled by the legal team for the “joined parties” of former council colleagues Rozi Parisotto, Don Joyce, Tammy Atkins and Lisa McInerney.

Under cross-examination, Dr Fidge was accused of being on a mission to oust Mr Sharp from his post in the lead-up to and after the 2012 election.

Dr Fidge was part of the new-look council elected, which he believed didn’t sit well with Mr Sharp and another senior staffer, Ray Park.

“On the first day as a councillor I was made to feel so uncomfortable by Doug Sharp and the council management team,” Dr Fidge said.

“As the newcomer I was made to feel isolated and undermined.

“This management team had a history of running councillors out of council.

“I needed to establish I wouldn’t be stood over and wouldn’t be gagged.”

Dr Fidge conceded he made critical comments of the council staff and former councillors, including calling them “clowns” on a Facebook page he used during the election campaign.

“They treated residents appallingly,” he said. “This is why I got elected.

“Given what had been going on in Wangaratta for the last decade, I was very mild and temperate in my language.

“Wangaratta was the slowest growing town in Victoria.”

As a peace-making gesture, Dr Fidge agreed to cease using the Facebook page he used during the election and in the days after being sworn in.

But he was “disgusted” a posting on a personal Facebook page criticising council staff had been tendered at VCAT.

The public gallery was forced to leave the hearing on three occasions yesterday as senior member Ian Proctor agreed to hear privileged legal advice obtained by council and Dr Fidge.

Dr Fidge described some of the legal advice as “scare-mongering”.

His misconduct charges were used in part by the state government to sack the council last year.

Dr Fidge said during the hearing he planned to contest the 2016 council election.

“At the next election I hope to be elected again,” he said.

“I hope I have proven to the electorate I will listen to them, respond to them and am a competent councillor.”