• VCAT

March 3, 2020

A third council sacked by the Victorian Government in 10 months

Whittlesea Council will join the conflict-plagued South Gippsland Shire Council which was removed in June last year, after six resignations and the Casey City Council, which remains at the centre of an IBAC investigation, and now replaced by an administrator last month as the third council to be sacked by the States Government within 10 months. After an independent monitor been appointed for Whittlesea Council, Victorian Government made the decision on Tuesday to sack the entire council.

The drama unfolded in the end of 2019 as Simon Overland became the third chief executive to be sacked by the council in the last four years, amid ongoing allegations of bullying and intimidation of staff by some councillors. The Australian Services Union (ASU) recently wrote to the council to raise concerns of a “very toxic workplace culture”. The independent monitor been appointed after receiving specific complaints about the behaviour of councillors and other matters over a number of months. Later discovered Simon Overland is the fifth chief executive sacked by the council in five years.

According to ABC News, The Victorian Government has moved to sack the dysfunctional City of Whittlesea council, three months after chief executive Simon Overland was removed and an independent monitor installed.

Legislation was introduced to State Parliament on Tuesday this week to dismiss the council due to serious governance failures revealed by municipal monitor Yehudi Blacher.

Mr Blacher found the council went through five chief executives within five years and spent $500,000 on legal disputes. Also found that an intractable toxic culture has developed of infighting and division and internal bickering, which has led to the total collapse of governance at the Whittlesea City Council.

“This council has spent $500,000 in legal fees as a result of their internal bickering rather than spending money on the upkeep of infrastructure’.

“An example of that dysfunction is the fact that the council has had five different CEOs within five years — that’s a huge, massive turnover of CEOs. I’ve never seen that before.”

Mr Overland, who was Victoria’s police chief commissioner between 2009 and 2011, was Whittlesea’s fifth chief executive in five years.

He was sacked from his job in December 2019 amid allegations of bullying and intimidation of staff by councillors.

He held a number of senior positions with Victoria Police during Melbourne’s “gangland wars” and was called to give evidence during the recent ‘Lawyer X’ royal commission about his involvement in the use of lawyer Nicole Gobbo as an informant.

Mr Blacher, the municipal monitor, recommended the council be dismissed and administrators appointed until the 2024 local government general elections, or later.

Councillor welcomes sacking

Despite being told he would lose his job, Councillor Tom Joseph said he was pleased the council would be sacked. He said the council was beset with internal fighting and he accused some fellow councillors of “pork-barrelling”, and making decisions that were “not in the interests of the community”.

“We’re seeing wrong decision after wrong decision, costing millions of dollars,” Cr Joseph told ABC Radio Melbourne.

At the time of Mr Overland’s sacking, Cr Joseph described the council as “in chaos” and said the State Government’s decision was in the best interests of Whittlesea residents.

“The monitor found councillors have stopped acting in the best interests of the City of Whittlesea and recommended its immediate dismissal and replacement with administrators. We accept the recommendations,” Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek said.

Mr Somyurek said it was unfortunate that in his short tenure there had been three councils the Government had needed to sack.

The monitor’s report was due to hand down in June, but the monitor said ‘I’ve seen enough now, mid-March and the longer this circus continues the more the people in the City of Whittlesea are missing out’.

Council’s Future

Just like Casey Council which was sacked earlier last month due to alleged corruption in relation to property development and town planning in the City of Casey. The government will appoint an interim administrator to make sure the Whittlesea council functions are delivered once the councillors are removed from their positions. As for Casey Council, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission continues to examine council decisions related to property development and town planning in the City of Casey as part of Operation Sandon. 

Both Casey Council and Whittlesea Council are likely to be without democratically elected representatives for the next five years after the State Government passed legislation to sack the councils and install administrators until 2024. Whereas South Gippsland Council will have an administrator in place until a general election to be held in October 2021.