Shire faces call for State inquiry

THE STATE Government has been asked to conduct an inquiry into the performance of the Toodyay Shire Council.
The Toodyay Progress Association has listed a series of “serious matters” for investigation which it claims are “symptomatic of a wider civic disorder in the Shire of Toodyay”.
The Department of Local Government says it is considering the association’s request.
Shire President David Dow says the shire “totally rejects” the claims and will cooperate fully with any inquiry.
It coincides with this month’s call for nominations to fill five council vacancies on the nine-member council at the October 21 shire elections.
It also follows community anger over a new shire rating system that has caused this month’s rates bills for some rural residential owners to increase by $1000 or more.
Matters raised for investigation include:
  • legal costs totalling more than $570,000 in a failed bid to sue former shire CEO Graham Merrick and former shire president Charlie Wroth for alleged wrongdoing;

  • council adoption of last year’s “unlawful” rates which forced the shire to apply to the State Administrative Tribunal to have hundreds of rural rates notices quashed after a Coondle ratepayer complained to the State Government that his 2016-17 rates breached local government law;

  • a $2 million discrepancy in a shire budget review that was withdrawn without explanation at a March council meeting and resubmitted with 25 new items the following month;

  • a bid to axe two tall trees in Anzac Memorial Park to make more room for trucks in an unadvertised move that led to a tense police stand-off with protesters;

  • a move to sell shire-owned Mrs O’Reilly’s Cottage to an “unsolicited” buyer for an art gallery in breach of an earlier council undertaking and town planning approval to lease it to the vet and,

  • allowing a large limestone retaining wall to be built at the new Butterly Cottages site in Anzac Parade despite heritage precinct restrictions that have been used to bar other ratepayers from building similar retaining walls for their homes.

The progress association has submitted 43 pages of evidence to support its claims of a “long history of civic dysfunction”.

“The systems and oversight operating in the Toodyay Shire Council are considerably lower than one would expect from a contemporary council in 2017,” the submission said.

President Dow said the shire “totally rejects the claims being made by the Toodyay Progress Association”.
“If the Department of Local Government decides to investigate further we will fully co-operate and provide the department with all information that it may request,” he said.
“I have personally spoken to the Hon. David Templeman, Minister for Local Government, advising him that the TPA has expressed concerns with the operations of council.
“I find it concerning that a self-appointed committee of six purporting to represent the wider Toodyay community can call for an inquiry without any minuted resolution or directive from its members.

“I also find it interesting that the TPA has published its call for an inquiry immediately prior to nominations for five council positions when there is little or no prospect of a finding until after the October local government elections.”

Toodyay Progress Association Chair Larry Graham said all the rules of the association had been complied with.

“The timing is entirely due to council prevarication – had the council responded in a timely and appropriate way these matters would have been dealt with months ago,” Mr Graham said.
“Our letter went to the Director General of the department because he is the person under the Act with the power to inquire.”

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