Shire gets State tick of approval
THE STATE Government has commended Toodyay’s new council for its response to 23 adverse findings tabled in the WA Parliament last year after a 20-month formal inquiry.
The findings detailed seven years of civic dysfunction that cost Toodyay ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in unlawful spending, futile court cases, unethical conduct and conflicts of interest.
Investigators found that former Toodyay civic leaders failed to properly manage a previous CEO whose contract was terminated by a majority of new councillors after he took three months’ extended sick leave on the morning of a council meeting early last year.
WA Local Government Director General Lanie Chopping said the findings “were distressing to residents and ratepayers”.
She said she was “confident that the shire can restore good governance” through reforms submitted to the State Government for departmental approval.
“The shire’s commitment to improve its procedures throughout this difficult process is commendable,” she said.
A formal inquiry into the shire and its culture was ordered by Ms Chopping’s predecessor, former director general Duncan Ord, after official departmental criticism of the former CEO’s performance and lack of understanding of legal matters.
His refusal to inform the council of the criticism was followed by a weekend email attack on former Cr Di Granger, prompting her resignation only four months after she defeated former shire leader David Dow by an absolute majority in the 2017 elections.
Last year’s inquiry report to State Parliament recommended that Toodyay’s new civic leaders adopt a “review action plan” to address the adverse findings.
The plan was completed last August after a review by former City of Perth Commissioner Andrew Hammond.
It was approved by the department in October and requires ongoing meetings between the shire and senior departmental officers, starting this month.
The shire plan to address the inquiry’s adverse findings includes departmental-approved councillor training in:
- meeting procedures,
- dealing with conflict,
- CEO performance appraisals,
- financial management,
- local government procurement, and
A letter tabled at last month’s council meeting showed that most of Toodyay’s nine councillors have attended most of the courses, which were completed in October.
Four councillors – Shire President Rosemary Madacsi, Deputy President Beth Ruthven and Crs Phil Hart and Susan Pearce – attended all of the courses.
Cr Mick McKeown attended two courses – CEO performance appraisals and financial management – and was listed as an apology for two more.
Cr Ben Bell was the only currently sitting councillor who did not attend any courses.
He was reported as being granted a leave of absence for two of the courses and listed as an apology for a third.
It is understood business travel commitments outside WA and Covid-19 quarantine restrictions prevented Cr Bell from attending the recommended training.
New Crs Danielle Wrench, Charmeine Duri and Steve McCormick were elected two months ago and are yet to undertake similar local government training.
State Local Government Executive Director Tim Fraser wrote to the shire last month that “it is encouraging that most councillors participated in the training offered”.
He said it “will hopefully lead to improved governance”.
“The newly elected members may also provide a fresh start for the council in moving forward,” Mr Fraser said.
In a separate file note, Mr Fraser wrote that legal advice sought by the shire was protected by legal and professional privilege.
“As such, it is not normally released publicly,” he said.
“Councils need to be able to seek legal advice to assist them to make decisions and that such advice is provided on the basis of legal professional privilege.”
Mr Fraser invited Shire CEO Suzie Haslehurst to “share this advice publicly”.