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Strathbogie Shire Council has been suspended by the Victorian government after a second monitor’s report exposed the regional council’s failings.
Local Government Minister Melissa Horne announced all councillors would be relieved of their duties from Wednesday until the next local council elections in October 2024.
Local government minister Melissa Horne.Credit: Joe Armao
Municipal monitor Peter Stephenson will become the Strathbogie Shire interim administrator.
Since the beginning of the council term, three councillors have resigned from the council, which also covers Nagambie and Euroa in north-central Victoria.
Stephenson is the second monitor to work with the council. The first, Janet Dore, finished her appointment in July last year.
In his report, Stephenson highlighted issues plaguing Strathbogie including that councillors did not understand their roles, interference with operational matters relating to administration and poor conduct towards each other and council staff.
The report referred to one such instance where the CEO’s salary and performance review were discussed openly in a livestreamed council meeting in late May.
Councillors inappropriately involving themselves in operational issues were being investigated.
“It was clear that many councillors were focused on their ward, not the whole municipality, and on their representative, rather than governance role,” Stephenson said in the report.
Mayor Laura Binks said the challenges facing the council had become “awful”.
“We were experiencing multiple code of conduct breaches and regular unacceptable
behaviour towards each other, the CEO, and the council officers,” Binks said in a statement.
“It has been awful. A lack of trust between councillors, a lack of trust between councillors and officers. Nobody wanted to come to work on Tuesdays when we were all in the chamber.”
Binks also acknowledged some of the council’s achievements in its first term including the opening the Rockies Bridge over the Seven Creeks, the Violet Town Landfill Rehabilitation, and flying the rainbow flag for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
Horne decided to suspend the council after considering the responses received from the council and individual councillors.
“Strathbogie residents deserve a council that serves their needs, and it is clear from the work of two municipal monitors that a circuit-breaker is needed,” Horne said in a statement.
The Allan government will also look to introduce new reforms to the Local Government Act 2020 to attract “quality” candidates before next year’s council elections.
Reforms will introduce mandatory training for elected representatives, a uniform councillor code of conduct and strengthened powers for the minister to address councillor conduct, across the state’s 79 councils.
The latest state government figures show almost 30 councillors have resigned since January while one council, Moira Shire, has been sacked and replaced by administrators.
Municipal monitors have been appointed to intervene eight times in 18 months at the Glenelg, Strathbogie, Horsham, Darebin, Wodonga, Geelong and Yarra councils.
With Benjamin Preiss and Rachael Dexter
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