State puts shire on notice of inquiry risk
Councillors in three-week stand-off with CEO over release of official warning
THE STATE Government has warned the Shire of Toodyay to change how it operates or risk an official inquiry.
Pictured left: Shire CEO Stan Scott
This follows a call by the Toodyay Progress Association for an official inquiry into several matters of concern, including the loss of more than $570,000 of ratepayers’ money in a failed bid to sue former shire CEO Graham Merrick and former shire president Charlie Wroth for $151,000.Read more
An inquiry earlier this month resulted in the sacking of the Perth City Council and the appointment of an administrator.
The WA Local Government Department wrote to Toodyay Progress Association Chair Larry Graham last month saying it “believes there remains sufficient justification to continue to monitor the operations and affairs of the shire.”
“To this end, the shire has been requested to revisit specific areas of policy, review certain procedures and improve its level of compliance,” the department said.
“The department has advised the shire that it intends to assess the shire’s responses in that regard to determine whether any further action may be warranted.”
It listed “policies, processes, procedures and compliance” as areas of concern and gave the shire until March 6 to respond.
The warning letter was received at the shire office on February 1 and triggered a three-week stand-off between Shire CEO Stan Scott and the council.
Shire President Brian Rayner and Deputy President Therese Chitty knew nothing about the official warning until a meeting five days later with Mr Graham, who read them a similar letter received by the association.
It is understood that when President Rayner later questioned Mr Scott, he was told it was an “administrative” matter for the CEO alone to deal with under local government law.
Mr Scott is understood also to dispute some of the concerns raised in the letter.
Most councillors knew nothing about the Local Government Department warning until a week later when the Toodyay Progress Association published parts of its own letter from the department on Facebook.
It prompted councillors to go behind closed doors at a February 13 forum to ask Mr Scott to explain what was going on.
It is understood Mr Scott said it was an administrative matter and that local government law prevented the council from getting involved.
However, one councillor – after consulting the others during the closed-door discussion – sent a phone message to Mr Graham asking if he would release the association’s copy of the department’s letter, which Mr Graham emailed to all councillors next morning.
Cr Sally Craddock resigned from the council later the same day.
This was followed by a week of email exchanges between the remaining councillors, resulting in a 4-4 split over whether to demand that Mr Scott release his copy of the department’s letter at the council’s February 27 meeting.
President Rayner is understood to have backed the CEO’s stance, supported by Crs Paula Greenway, Rob Welburn and Judy Dow, whose husband David was shire president for most of the period covered by the official warning until he lost his seat to Cr Di Granger in last October’s shire elections.
Had it gone to a formal council vote, President Rayner could have used his casting vote to keep the warning letter – which according to council minutes he still hadn’t seen – hidden from the council.
Cr Ben Bell served written notice on Sunday February 18 that he would seek the release of the letter and “all other correspondence”, prompting Mr Scott to release it the following Friday to all councillors, including President Rayner.
However, it took a further call by Cr Bell on the Sunday for Mr Scott to release “all other correspondence”, which he did on the Monday – a day before the February 27 council meeting.
Cr Bell’s notice of motion was not published in the meeting agenda and the letter was not raised for discussion by the council or made public.
However, in answer to a question from Mr Graham, President Rayner said the council would get a copy of Mr Scott’s answer to the Local Government Department’s letter “when he responds”.
Under the heading “Withholding bad news before an election” Cr Bell posted on Facebook next morning that it did not appear to him “or to many in the public gallery” to be “overly clear” from the previous night’s council meeting “if the shire intends to potentially withhold the release of information before the upcoming (May 25) West Ward election” caused by former Cr Craddock’s resignation.
“As far as I am permitted under the shire’s standing orders, I will endeavour to ensure as much information is in the public domain both in the lead-up to this election as well as throughout my time on council,” Cr Bell said.