- 1 Apr 2020
This is my first opportunity to introduce myself to the local government sector, and to thank you for the engagement I’ve enjoyed with several councils so far.
This is a challenging time for the whole sector and my team wishes to extend our thanks for your patience and understanding as we grapple with the wider impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. My team will be working from home for the foreseeable future but will remain in contact with the sector and continue to receive and assess information and complaints as normal.
Some major events occurred before the pandemic took hold in Australia, including the passing of the new Local Government Act, which received Royal Assent on 24 March.
The new Act will introduce some important changes to council and election processes with some improvements, such as mandatory training for candidates and code of conduct processes, influenced by recommendations from the Inspectorate.
The State Government also dismissed Whittlesea City Council after many examples of dysfunction and conduct issues. The former Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf, who has been appointed an IBAC Deputy Commissioner, recommended a Monitor be placed at the council last December (https://www.lgi.vic.gov.au/monitor-recommended-whittlesea-city-council) and required that had instigated a councillor conduct panel be formed to make a finding of serious misconduct against a Whittlesea councillor before the dismissal.
We look forward to engaging with you throughout the year and providing support where possible to assist in coping with impacts of the current pandemic.
Dr John Lynch PSM
Acting Chief Municipal Inspector
New Local Government Act in force
The Local Government Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 24 March with the first and second tranches of legislation coming into operation on 6 April and 1 May.
The legislation delivers reforms including:
- mandatory training for council election candidates and councillors
- statewide code of conduct to guide councillor behaviour and allow for disqualification for councillors guilty of multiple breaches of serious misconduct rules
- recognition of the need for collaboration between councils to deliver better services
- mandatory transparency rules for handling complaints
- deliberative engagement with communities to set each council’s Community Vision and Council Plan
The Inspectorate has formed an implementation working group and aims to develop resources for the sector.
In a bulletin sent to the sector last week, Local Government Victoria (LGV) announced a Project Control Board to oversee planning for the implementation of the new Act, with representatives from sector peak bodies including the MAV, VLGA, FinPro and LGPro working alongside LGV staff.
The bulletin stated:
“The implementation will include in-depth support through: guidance notes, guidelines, supporting material, online forums, online workshops, templates and publications. These will be available to all councils with some elements managed through co-design with the sector and communities.”
More information on the Act implementation timeline can be found on the LGV website.
Whittlesea City Council dismissed
The Act to dismiss Whittlesea City Council has passed Parliament with councillors replaced initially by interim administrator Lydia Wilson.
The Local Government (City of Whittlesea) Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 20 March and provides for the dismissal of the council and appointment of administrators until the October 2024 general council elections.
Ms Wilson will step in to restore good governance to the council until a panel of three permanent administrators is appointed.
Ms Wilson is an experienced local government executive and company director with more than 25 years’ experience in the sector. She was CEO of the City of Manningham for six years until 2012, and also served as CEO of the Macedon Ranges Shire and City of Yarra councils.
Municipal monitor Yehudi Blacher’s report found clear evidence that governance had collapsed in the City of Whittlesea and recommended its dismissal.
In addition, the report found that:
- the council’s deep divides and personality conflicts have rendered it dysfunctional
- Councillors failed to provide stability in the Council’s senior leadership with five CEO’s in five years and more than $500,000 spent on internal legal disputes
- Councillor behaviours have not been consistent with the Councillor Code of Conduct and have caused significant harm to the council’s administration and reputation
Before the dismissal, former Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf had applied for a councillor conduct panel to make a finding of serious misconduct against Whittlesea councillor Ricky Kirkham, pursuant to section 81B(1B)(c) of the Local Government Act 1989.
The application was withdrawn after Cr Kirkham resigned his position on 17 February.
David Wolf moves to new role at IBAC
Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf departed the Inspectorate on 28 January after being appointed as a Deputy Commissioner of the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission.
David led the Inspectorate from its beginning in 2009, until 2013. He returned to the role in 2016 and guided the Inspectorate through the general council elections of that year and then continued to lead the Inspectorate in the delivery of integrity oversight for local government in Victoria.
“I am proud of the work the Inspectorate has achieved over its past 10 years and am confident it will continue to flourish under a new CMI in the future,” he said.
“The Inspectorate has positively influenced Victorian and interstate local government frameworks and policy and I am pleased with the work my team has delivered to improve transparency and integrity across the sector.”
Dr John Lynch will act as the Chief Municipal Inspector while Mr Wolf’s replacement is recruited.
Dr Lynch has extensive public sector experience in legal and integrity roles and was previously Special Counsel at IBAC. Prior to working at IBAC, Dr Lynch was Crown Counsel to the Victorian Government.
COVID-19 pandemic and changes to council processes
Several councils have been enquiring about contingency planning for council meetings, in response to the challenges raised by COVID-19.
LGV has been providing information to councils based on interpretations of the Local Government Act on aspects such as public attendance at meetings, options for online rather than in-person meetings and delegation of authority.
Meetings open to the public: Section 66(1) of the Local Government Act 2020 requires that council meetings be open to the public, unless a circumstance in section 66(2) applies. Section 66(2) states those circumstances are:
- the meeting is to consider confidential information; or
- security reasons; or
- it is necessary to close the meeting to enable the meeting to proceed in an orderly manner
The Act does not provide an opportunity to exempt this requirement.
Those councils that currently stream council meetings are encouraged to promote the availability of this medium as an alternative to attendance in person whilst social distancing is being encouraged.
A council may close a meeting under b) or c) above, provided it enables the meeting to be viewed by the public e.g. streamed on the internet. The term "security" is not defined in the Act but would be broad enough to apply in the current circumstances relating to COVID-19. This section will commence on 1 May. Meanwhile the provisions of the 1989 Act continue to operate.
Councillor attendance at meetings: The Local Government Act 2020 provides that voting at council meetings is undertaken by councillors present at the meeting. ‘Present’ means physically present in the room where the decision making is taking place. As of 30 March, there is no current provision that allows a council to be exempted from this requirement, e.g. allowing presence by electronic means.
It is recommended that attendance at meetings have regard to the Commonwealth Government’s guidance on social distancing and hygiene.
Cancelling or postponing meetings: If a council wishes to cancel or postpone a council or special committee meeting – for example because a quorum cannot be formed due to the absence of councillors - it should give as much public notice as is practicable. Again, there is no capacity to exempt or vary quorum requirements under the Act.
Delegation: To enable continued council operations, councils may wish to consider delegating additional powers, duties and functions to council’s chief executive officer and further sub-delegating to staff. Section 98 of the Act (1989) sets out the requirements for delegating council powers, duties and functions. Councils are encouraged to review their delegations to maximise the opportunity for business continuity.
More details from LGV bulletins are available on the LGV website.
Vale David Turnbull
Mitchell Shire Council CEO David Turnbull has passed away following a battle with cancer.
Mr Turnbull joined Mitchell Shire Council as its CEO in May 2016 and laid the foundations for a financially viable and professional organisation that is responsible and oversees the State’s fastest growing Local Government area.
His professional life was dedicated to helping and assisting communities. Melbourne’s northern growth corridor was heavily influenced by Mr Turnbull.
Sensible planning, jobs and economic growth, with a one job per household philosophy and a family-focus influenced his decision-making. Community values and interaction were at the forefront of his life in Local Government.
Mr Turnbull served nine years as CEO at City of Whittlesea and 12 years as Director Planning and Development. He spent more than 40 years in Local Government.
His entire career was with interface Councils and he embraced the challenges associated with that growth while maintaining township, rural and green wedge qualities.
David was regarded as an expert in his field in supporting interface councils and creating a sense of community in an ever-changing landscape. He has been responsible for overseeing significant growth across Bulla Shire (now Hume), Whittlesea City Council and Mitchell Shire as well as creating a fiscally stable and professional workforce to serve the ratepayers and community.
He had the ability to effectively build strong partnerships across all levels of government, the private development industry and community organisations - building strong relationships and achieving exceptional outcomes in the planning of communities.
He led policy change at a State and Federal Government level, including annual commitment of funds to specifically support growth interface councils.
* Thank you to Mitchell Shire Council for providing the information included above.