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27 November 2019
By Colin MacGillivray
Yarriambiack Shire Council leaders have vowed to win back residents’ trust after a report revealed governance failings by senior officers and mismanagement of money, materials and equipment by staff.
Mayor Graeme Massey said a scathing assessment of the council’s management practices, policy and record-keeping by the Local Government Inspectorate had been a catalyst for sweeping changes within the organisation.
The inspectorate began investigating the council after receiving an anonymous complaint in June last year that alleged a series of serious breaches of the Local Government Act.
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An investigation that started at the council’s Hopetoun depot expanded to include the management practices of senior council officers.
A report found that council staff at the Hopetoun depot undertook private works using council equipment during work hours and were often paid in cash or with gifts such as slabs of beer.
Staff were also encouraged to personally buy equipment before leasing it back to the council to draw extra income.
One employee made more than $450,000 leasing a water truck to the council during an eight-year period, while another claimed $174,500 by leasing a truck and trailer to the council for two years. There were no formal contracts in either case.
The report also raised questions about unauthorised sale of council equipment. The anonymous whistleblower alleged a council-owned cherry picker was sold without authorisation and proceeds distributed among depot workers.
The investigation found the council owned a cherry picker in the mid-1990s and, despite paying registration and insurance for a cherry picker until recently, did not possess one.
Questions were also raised about senior management, including what were described as ‘unprecedented’ termination payouts for senior council officers of up to $416,000.
The council was found to be owed more than $1.5-million in outstanding rates, with poor record-keeping stymying its ability to track or collect rates owed.
The report also questioned the use of council credit cards, which was at times found not to be in accordance with the council’s own credit-card policy.
The report laid most of the blame for the council’s failings at the feet of senior staff, including the former chief executive.
The report found the former CEO and senior managers ‘allowed poor behaviours and practices to go unchallenged and did not commit to implementing performance-development strategies for themselves or their staff’.
Cr Massey said the council had accepted its failings and was now committed to winning back the trust of residents by implementing 52 recommendations in the report. “To regain community support, we have to show we’re taking action,” he said.
“Our new chief executive Jessie Holmes has taken over and done an extremely good job since July last year.
“Almost from day one she has taken steps to bring the workplace up to the standard it should have been at prior to her arriving.
“We’ve already been working on rectifying nearly a third of the recommendations, including making sure our governance and policy is up to date.”
Cr Massey said while it was obvious staff at the Hopetoun depot had been involved in questionable practices, it was senior management that should bear most of the blame.
“I think we’re lucky the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission wasn’t involved because it’s clear some of the matters at the Hopetoun depot did involve theft,” he said.
“I don’t want to see outdoor staff victimised over this because I don’t think they were the ones who were dishonest; it’s the people who allowed it to happen and didn’t monitor it properly.
“It was a common practice 20 or 30 years ago to do in-kind favours for people when you were a worker, but that has got to stop.
“We certainly hope everyone is on the same page now.
“We’re all reading from the same page, it’s about whether we’re going to implement what is on that page.”
The entire November 27, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!
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