Now you see him – now you don’t
By Ben Bell
IT HAS often been said that the behaviour you ignore is the behaviour you accept.
The more I thought about this saying over the past week or two, the more the events surrounding the departure of the shire’s environmental officer concerned me.Read more
It is not just that we no longer have a dedicated and experienced person within the administration overseeing environmental matters on behalf of the shire and its ratepayers that causes me discomfort, it’s the apparent back story about why he lost his job that unsettles me and, I would suggest, should be of equal concern to other shire employees given its potential implications for their job security.
Before we get into why the departure of the shire’s environmental officer should send a shiver down the back of every employee currently working for the Shire of Toodyay, let’s take a step back for a second.
The idea is wrong that the Shire of Toodyay does not require a full-time environment officer and thus the position is redundant.
Actually, it is more than wrong, it is a mistruth which appears is being used by the administration as a smoke screen to hide the potentially flawed decision-making process operating in Toodyay at times.
It was as recently as 2015 that the shire released its environmental management strategy, which proudly boasted that the shire had appointed a dedicated environmental officer as evidence that the administration recognised and was committed to improving Toodyay’s environmental management processes.
In fact, the shire lists the environment as one of its five key “outcome areas” each year, including in its 2018 reports as well as in Toodyay’s current Corporate Business Plan.
For that reason every single item that comes before council for discussion or decision needs to include an analysis from the administration on its environmental implications.
With the environmental officer role deemed redundant by the shire, the council has now lost its main source of information when assessing the environmental implications of a planning application, extractive industry licence, or any number of other matters that comes before us.
If the Shire of Toodyay considers the environment management to be a core element of its operation, why did it decide to abolish the once lauded position of environmental officer?
Well, there appears to be more than a suggestion that a councillor may have crossed that very clear line that separates council and the shire administration and potentially influenced the decision to do away with this position.
This is the point where I need to clearly state that these are my views and in no way endorsed by The Herald.
But I am confident to make these points with hand-on-heart because it was me (and a few other councillors I would suggest) who overheard conversations between at least one councillor and the administration, as subdued as they were, questioning the merits of retaining the (now-former) environmental officer.
Perhaps I am wrong.
Perhaps the administration was already contemplating making the role redundant long before it was commented on by a current councillor.
However, the fact that a councillor felt that they could comment on the employment of a specific shire employee, may indicate that as a local government body we perhaps haven’t taken on board the comments and feedback from the likes of the State Department of Local Government which, as we all know, is continuing to monitor the Shire of Toodyay.
If it proves to be that a councillor was, in some way, involved in the departure of the environmental officer, as a councillor I am concerned that this behaviour may indicate that there are still areas where some in council and the shire executive may not be adhering fully to processes set down by the State Government. A failure in corporate governance is the official term.
As a ratepayer, this affects you too because at the end of the day incidents like the redundancy of the environmental officer on dubious grounds (if indeed that is what occurred here) exposes the shire to the risk of expensive legal action, and we can probably all think of at least one example of where Toodyay incurred huge legal bills fighting a losing case in past few years for seemingly not following procedures.
Of course, there are only two ways the shire can pay these legal bills – through increasing your rates or decreasing the amount it spends on roads and public infrastructure, or both.
Thus, it is not a stretch at all to say that poor governance could end up costing you real money again.
I guess we will keep our eyes open over the coming months to see whether any other positions are suddenly made redundant by the shire’s administration.
In the meantime, the question remains, how can the position of environmental officer, which was widely promoted as being a key position in the shire, be deemed redundant almost overnight?