Inquiry silences council denials
Toodyay Progress Association
Larry Graham, Chair
OUR LETTER of 16 August 2017 said to the Director General of the Department of Local Government that “The Toodyay Progress Association (TPA) seeks a formal inquiry into the performance of the Shire of Toodyay”.
That call was immediately dismissed by the then shire president who said “The shire has reviewed the list of complaints and we totally reject the claims being made by the TPA”.Read more
From that time onwards as they have completely misread the situation, the council responses have been predictable.
What the council has never accepted is that the complaints that triggered this process were genuine and supported by hard evidence.
They have tried to defend the indefensible with a constant barrage of hostile allegations against various organisations and people while the majority of councillors ignored the evidence we put before them.
It is a matter of fact that the community has been lied to – there have never been any findings clearing the shire and obviously the matter was not finalised, as has often been claimed.
And since our complaint, there has been a steady stream of people making formal complaints and providing the department with further evidence on a wide range of matters.
This is no longer a case of the council being innocent until proven guilty. although that was how it was between our original letter and 6 December 2018, when the council had all that time to prove its innocence and was unable to do so.
The department’s official view last January was that “The Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural (the Department) does not agree with or accept some of information provided by the shire in its response regarding its reasons and explanations concerning the matters raised”.
“In view of the above, it is the Department’s opinion that the shire’s response has demonstrated not only a lack of understanding of provisions of the legislation, but also a propensity to misinterpret other legalities and procedures,” the department said.
“The Shire’s response will be taken into consideration by the Department in determining whether any further action is warranted on these matters.”
The shire’s response was considered and in March 2018 the department further advised that “Whilst the Department acknowledges the extent of work undertaken by the Shire over the previous years it is still concerned that there may be outstanding matters in regard to processes, procedures and compliance requiring the Shire’s attention and improvement”.
And, having heard all that the council has had to say, the official departmental view this month is that “there is a reasonable suspicion the Council has breached sections of the Local Government Act 1995 (Act) and associated Regulations” so there will now be an official inquiry into the affairs of the Shire of Toodyay.
The inquiry is wide ranging, has the power to access any information and is looking at both the council and administration from 1 January 2013 to the present.
It may go on a long time – a similar inquiry into the City of Melville has been going for more than a year.
On being informed that its regulator is about to start a formal inquiry into it, any competent organisation would call an emergency meeting of its board or council to discuss the matter.
This did not happen.
Three investigating officers have been appointed to conduct the investigation and it may take a long time to finish, which means the council will come under increasing pressure.
It can either accept what is happening and work to improve the outcomes or continue the aggressive behaviour that got us all into this mess in the first place.
The shire’s public announcement in its December newsletter tried to make light of things, which is strange because this inquiry is a very serious matter that provides both opportunities and challenges.
The Shire of Toodyay has been dysfunctional for many years and needs to change.
Our association has offered assistance but these offers have all been rejected.
But we are still willing to work positively with the council to restore some semblance of order to civic life in the shire.
We suggest that to begin that process that office holders put aside any personal animosity, anger and bitterness and focus on the public interest.
They should do this because while they have been in denial and pretending nothing is wrong, ratepayers and residents have suffered civic dysfunction, falling property prices, a shrinking population and increasing rates.
The council’s December newsletter said: “The inquiry provides the opportunity to clear the decks so to speak”.
We agree that the decks really do need clearing, and we say the shire president, the deputy, some councillors and the CEO really should consider their positions and decide whether they are to be part of the problem or the solution.
And while they are doing that, those councillors who are serious about the job they hold should immediately meet and make a decision to approach the department to hire a mentor CEO for the shire.
Such a move would start the rebuilding processes while the inquiry is underway, and then we could kick start some positive community engagement with elections to bring in some fresh talent.
These things should happen because the major objectives should be the good of Toodyay and to rebuild trust in its council.
Without steps like those outlined, we are doomed to more of the same until the inquiry reports and then there will be forced change.
As always, we point out that we are a not for profit, volunteer public advocacy group that has not, and will not, run, supported or endorsed candidates for elected office.