The decision to appoint a governance officer on a salary of $150,000 last year was purely to cope with the volume of complaints levelled against Warrnambool City councillors and staff.TENSIONS within Warrnambool City Council in the past two years have triggered expenditure of at least $250,000 to investigate and adjudicate on frivolous claims.
The startling figure came to light during heated debate this week around the topic of council harmony which provided rare insight into an ongoingrift affecting the city’s reputation.
On Monday night several councillors revealed they had been targets of complaints from colleagues in verbal attacks inside and outside council settings.
One, Cr Jacinta Ermacora, said there had been more than 20 allegations against her which had been probed by the Local Government Inspectorate, independent investigators and a code of conduct panel.
“Not one investigation was upheld,” she said.
“An estimated $250,000 has been spent in recent years on legal expenses, senior officers’ time and other avenues and a full-time governance officer was appointed to deal with the cases.” Yesterday she elaborated, saying the decision to appoint a governance officer on a salary of $150,000 last year was purely to cope with the volume of complaints levelled against councillors and staff.
“That’s taken a load off senior officers who previously had to devote a huge amount of time to these issues,” Cr Ermacora said.
“The estimate was for all complaints directed against me and three other colleagues in this term of council.”
Cr Rob Askew, also lifted the lid with a rare outburst describing accusations against him as vexatious and frivolous. He said “baseless” complaints had caused considerable stress for him and his family.
“There have been a number of attacks on my integrity based on unsubstantiated information,” Cr Askew said.
“It’s time these councillors took time to chew on a reality stick and considered their motives first before attacking others.”
Cr Brian Kelson, who triggered the debate with a notice of motion emphasising the mayor’s responsibility to foster a united team, called for confidentiality to be lifted on the complaints issue.
He was challenged by Cr Ermacora and Cr Kylie Gaston on his motive in focusing just on the mayor and not on the council team as a whole, to which Cr Kelson replied he was trying to start a healing process.
Cr Peter Hulin jokingly described himself as an expert on conduct code hearings, which he claimed were triggered by false charges by the mayor and others.
Cr Peter Sycopoulis also revealed tensions over budget meeting attendances, stifling of debate and lack of opportunity for delegation in official duties.
Mayor Michael Neoh successfully put forward an amendment to Cr Kelson’s motion and achievedunanimous support for including reference to the statewide good governance guide in the council’s own governance agreement which includes a code of conduct.
He deleted Cr Kelson’s reference to the mayor and put the emphasis on all councillors.
Cr Neoh challenged all councillors to show their commitment and goodwill by signing the code of conduct as soon as possible.
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