State inquiry widens as investigators probe shire administration
By Michael Sinclair-Jones
SHIRE CEO Stan Scott (left) has been given until Easter to convince Toodyay councillors that he should keep his job.
The council is undergoing a formal State Government inquiry based on “reasonable suspicion” it breached local government laws and regulations in the past five years while Mr Scott has been shire CEO.Read more
Mr Scott served written notice to last month’s council meeting that he wants to keep his $223,000 a year job when his four-year employment contract ends in July.
However, councillors went behind closed doors to reject his bid to start talks on a new contract, saying they need first to decide if he should keep his job.
Shire President Brian Rayner has called a special council meeting for 11.30am on Tuesday February 19 to discuss whether Mr Scott should get a new contract.
Mr Scott’s current contract states “there is no compulsion” for councillors to agree to a new contract when the old one expires.
His recommendation last month for the council to start talks with him for a new contract was moved by Cr Judy Dow, seconded by Cr Paula Greenway and backed by President Rayner.
It was defeated 5-3 by Deputy President Therese Chitty, Audit Committee Chair Rob Welburn, and Crs Eric Twine, Ben Bell and Bill Manning (Cr Craig Brook absent).
A motion by Cr Bell, seconded by Deputy President Chitty, to terminate Mr Scott’s employment when his contract expires on July 20 was lost 7-1 when only Cr Bell voted in favour.
Cr Welburn then seconded a motion by Cr Manning that the council:
- enter into discussions with the CEO as to whether the council and the CEO wish to enter into a new contract employment for a further term, and
- determine whether to enter into a new contract of employment with the CEO by no later than 18 April 2019 (the day before the four-day Easter break).
The motion was carried 7-1 with Cr Bell opposed.
It is unlikely that a report on the Toodyay council will be completed and any adverse findings made before Easter, and it certainly won’t occur before this month’s special meeting to discuss whether the council should offer the CEO a new contract.
The CEO’s contract is likely to be discussed behind closed doors which means the meeting agenda – when published – will not show any recommendations put forward for the council to consider or who proposed it.
The inquiry follows 11 months of State Government monitoring of shire operations and affairs after a warning that the shire had shown “not only a lack of understanding of the provisions of legislation but also a propensity to misinterpret other legalities and procedures”.
Mr Scott refused at first to reveal the department’s criticism of the shire to the council, saying it was an administrative matter.
It prompted the shock resignation of newly elected Cr Di Granger after Mr Scott accused her in a Saturday afternoon email of ignorance and inexperience, and said he expected the council to “immediately jump on” her for questioning his actions with “ill-informed” criticism.
Mr Scott’s email to former Cr Granger is part of a widening group of matters now being examined by local government investigators.
Toodyay is one of five WA councils currently under State investigation.
What’s being investigated?
THE TERMS of reference cover:
- The adequacy of and adherence to council policies and procedures by elected members and administration staff,
- enforcement actions undertaken by the Shire of Toodyay,
the function of the audit committee,
- declarations of interests by elected members,
- the culture within the shire, and
- any other matter that comes to the person’s attention during the inquiry.
Three Perth investigators have been interviewing local residents since early December.
They have powers to enter shire premises, seize shire computers, phone records and other property, inspect records held by banks and question staff and councillors under oath.
A motion by Cr Bell to censure President Rayner for allowing “false and misleading” information about the inquiry to be published in last month’s Toodyay Community Newsletter was carried 5-4.
President Rayner did not speak during the debate and voted to censure himself in a 4-4 split before using his casting vote as President to enable it to be carried.
Crs Dow, Greenway, Welburn and Twine voted against the censure motion, which was published in the minutes as being carried “not by an absolute majority” without saying why this was relevant to the vote, which was not declared invalid, or raised as a voting requirement during the debate.
Still ‘false and misleading’
THE SHIRE website continued to publish the “false and misleading” article early this month despite a correction titled “Local Government Authorised Inquiry Update” several items down a list of other articles in the website’s ‘News and Media’ section.
Ratepayers who got the newsletter by mail were not told it was false and misleading.
Matters being investigated under the State Government inquiry include:
- The loss of more than $550,000 in legal fees in a failed WA Supreme Court case against two former shire leaders;
- Mr Scott’s failed bid to sell shire-owned O’Reilly’s Cottage for $530,000 for use as an art gallery despite a long-standing verbal agreement and town planning approval for Heartlands Veterinary Hospital to lease the property to avoid having to leave town;
- unlawful 2016 rates that had to be quashed by a State tribunal and re-issued correctly to hundreds of rural ratepayers;
- the loss of at least $36,500 in legal fees last year after Mr Scott wrote a letter that botched a shire prosecution for an alleged dog attack on sheep;
- a further $6000 lost in legal fees after Mr Scott rejected an overseas visitor’s request last year to waive a $60 fine for parking on the wrong side of a road, and
- breaches of the Shire Code of Conduct.
Local government law says a council may be required to pay all or part of the cost of an authorised inquiry if there is an adverse finding against the council or any councillor or employee.
Mr Scott declined to comment.