Council check-up avoids major projects

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A MONITOR sent to report back to the state government on “governance issues” at Frankston Council will mostly restrict reports to tracking councillors’ behaviour and will not look at several contentious major projects.

The design and construction of the mostly vacant $11 million plus Frankston Yacht Club, collapse of negotiations with the Frankston & District Basketball Association over a $12.7 million upgrade of the Frankston Basketball Stadium and delays to the Wells Street $5.2 million redevelopment (originally budgeted at $3.5 million), are just three of the major projects seemingly not on the monitor’s radar while at council.

While a list of monitor Prue Digby’s terms of reference while at council is available online at the state government’s Know Your Council website, correspondence seen by The Times gives a clearer picture of her state government-approved mandate.

Correspondence from Local Government Minister Marlene Kairouz to council reveals the municipal monitor will look at:

  • Meeting boycotts resulting in an insufficient quorum
  • The use of notices of motion to approve unbudgeted expenditure
  • Poor attendance of councillors at briefing sessions
  • Frequent and unchecked breaches of the councillor code of conduct
  • Councillors improperly directing council staff in the performance of their duty

The publicly available terms of reference merely refer to the monitor looking at council’s meetings procedures and decision making and council’s councillor code of conduct and processes for resolving disputes.

The public terms of reference also refer to the monitor studying “the chief executive officer’s policies and practices that manage the interactions between councillors and council staff, and compliance with these policies and practices”.

When asked last week about the monitor’s terms of reference both council CEO Dennis Hovenden and the Minister’s department referred The Times to the publicly available information and not the more detailed list of issues the monitor will consider when making monthly reports to the Local Government Minister.

Ms Kairouz said monthly interim reports will not be made public but a final report by the monitor may be available to ratepayers.

“The monitor is providing regular updates and will file a comprehensive report at the completion of the monitoring period,” Ms Mairouz said.

Frankston ratepayers will ultimately foot the bill for the monitor’s planned 18-month stay at council while she attends both public and private meetings. Ms Digby is paid $1200 a day and will work two days a week on average.

The Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate announced late last year a monitor was on the way to Frankston. Mr Hovenden and then mayor Cr Brian Cunial said they had approached the state government with “concerns about the good governance of our city” before the monitor’s appointment.

One public council meeting in July last year was cancelled when Cr Kris Bolam, supported by Cr Glenn Aitken, “boycotted” a meeting when then-mayor Cr Cunial refused to defer the meeting after being told some councillors were unable to attend. The meeting was started and abandoned for lack of a quorum.    

Cr Bolam and Cr Steve Toms were both cleared last month of directing council staff after a LGICI investigation (“Watchdog clears councillors”, The Times 5/2/18).

The sole current councillor who has been publicly found to have breached any councillor code of conduct is present mayor Cr Colin Hampton.

An independent Municipal Association of Victoria investigation led to a ruling in June 2016 that Cr Hampton breached code of conduct clauses in the Local Government Act over the way he spoke to council staff in public at a function at The Deck bar in Frankston in December 2015.

As for major projects, a council internal audit, at a cost of $29,000 to ratepayers, by Pitcher Partners analysed the upgrade to Wells Street, the construction of a new war memorial at Beauty Park, the refurbishment of the Frankston Yacht Club, the building of the Frankston Football Club Function Centre and a clubhouse extension for the Frankston Bombers at Baxter Reserve.

Mr Hovenden announced the audit found “project management processes to be of a satisfactory standard”.

Cr Hampton described the audit findings as “scathing” and pushed for another external audit solely of the Wells Street revamp that included new street furniture, paving and lighting.

That Wells Street external audit, effectively an audit of an audit, is due to be completed in the next few weeks.

First published in the Frankston Times – 5 March 2018

This article was amended on 5 March to confirm the MAV ruling on an incident at The Deck bar was made in June 2016 and not June last year as originally reported.

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