THE state government has stepped in to scrutinise Frankston Council with the appointment of a monitor to oversee council’s operations.
The government intervention comes after the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate highlighted concerns about governance at council.
The state councils watchdog noted council public meetings have dragged on over several evenings this year, a meeting was cancelled due to a boycott by some councillors and there are also concerns about council spending not listed in council’s official budget.
Labor Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins announced on Sunday (10 September) she had decided to appoint a monitor to oversee council at the recommendation of the inspectorate.
“Frankston deserves a council that works in their best interests and is not beset by infighting,” Ms Hutchins said in a statement.
“The monitor will work with the councillors to improve the way they work as a team, how they work with the administration and make regular reports to me and the community”.
In May last year, during the previous council term, Frankston Labor MP Paul Edbrooke said he had discussed “some very concerning issues” about council with Ms Hutchins.
“We’re trying to get along with them but they need to know there are boundaries that we can’t overlook,” Mr Edbooke said at the time.
“If they get to that stage the government has to step in.”
Frankston mayor Cr Brian Cunial late on Sunday revealed he had “held concerns at the good governance of our city” and he and council CEO Dennis Hovenden had approached the state government before the Minister’s weekend announcement.
“I know some of my fellow councillors have held similar concerns,” he said in a statement.
“The next few years ahead are critical ones for Frankston, and it is incredibly important that Frankston has good municipal leadership.
“With the support of the CEO and his executive team, I have raised my concerns with the Minister for Local Government and the Office of Local Government.
“The CEO and I have spoken with the Minister’s chief of staff and met with the Local Government Inspectorate to raise concerns. I am pleased they have recognised that action was needed.
“The appointment of a monitor will allow the councillor group to reset the workings of the council to ensure the community of Frankston gets the leadership it deserves.
“I see this as an opportunity for us to set a new direction for both the council and Frankston, in the best interests of our community.”
A municipal monitor will attend council meetings, in public and at briefings behind closed doors, to oversee council’s performance.
The Local Government Minister has the power to stand down councillors and instruct council on governance direction on the advice of the monitor.
Councils can be suspended and government administrators can be brought in to run and manage council operations.
Central Goldfields Shire Council was sacked last month by the state government amid financial mismanagement failures.
The City of Greater Geelong council was sacked last year after an independent report found a culture of bullying and harassment.
The inspectorate issued a statement on Monday (11 September) confirming chief municipal inspector David Wolf wrote to Ms Hutchins “about the functioning of Frankston City Council and their ability to provide good governance for the community”.
“The inspectorate has received several recent complaints related to Frankston City Council,” Mr Wolf said.
“Many of the issues raised are matters for council to consider as part of their code of conduct but there are additional matters that may require examination by my office.
“Recent public meetings of council have raised further concerns about the focus and provision of leadership by council to the community.”
Mr Edbrooke said the community “tells me that they have had enough of the embarrassing infighting and need all our councillors to work together on behalf of the community, like they were elected to do.”
“Frankston should be in the media because of the many positive things happening in our community, not because of individual councillors behaving badly.”
It is not known at this stage how long the monitor will oversee Frankston Council’s operations.
Frankston ratepayers will pay for the monitor’s work at council.
“The inspectorate does not provide comment on specific complaints or matters under investigation. The inspectorate’s processes in respect to Frankston City Council will continue through this period,” Mr Wolf said.
This article was first published on 10 September 2017 and was updated on 11 September to include comment from Frankston mayor Cr Brian Cunial. The updated version of this article is published in the Frankston Times – 11 September 2017. A statement from the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate was added to this online version of the article on 11 September 2017.