RATYEPAYERS will fork out $1200 a day for the cost of an investigation into governance issues at South Gippsland Shire Council.
The stipulation that ratepayers foot the bill is outlined in 223 CA (5) of the Local Government Act.
But the cost is but one facing Council, with a legal battle between Cr Jeremy Rich’s family company Ansevata and SGSC reaching a crisis point – with $250,000 alone being demanded for SGSC’s use of water from the family’s Walkerville Retarding Basin.
The eventual cost of the 12-month appointment of Monitor Peter Stephenson by Minister for Local Government Marlene Kairouz could not be predicted. Neither could the potential cost of the legal proceedings between Ansevata and Council, though Cr Andrew McEwen put them at more than $1 million some time ago.
Mr Stephenson will set his own timetable and will be at Council as many times as he deems necessary, whether its one day a week or five. His attendance at Council meetings is a given.
With claims of conflict of interest, leaked emails and legal proceedings between Council and one of it elected representatives, South Gippsland Shire Council has some troubles.
Last week was Mr Stephenson’s first experience of local politics, South Gippsland style. Councillors were very well behaved during the public presentations day on Wednesday, June 20. Serious and reserved, he spent most of his time on an iPad.
Tellingly, Cr Rich was absent, presumably due to a potential conflict of interest claim, since the legal stoush was ratepayer Paul Norton’s main bone of contention during a wide-ranging address.
“If I’ve confused you, I’ve done a pretty good job, because I’m pretty confused myself. This has already cost us 65 grand in legal fees and we haven’t even hit first base,” Mr Norton said.
“Cr Rich has deep pockets. How much justice do you want, how much justice can you afford and how much justice do we – ratepayers – have to continue to fork out?”
A letter from the Wisewould Mahony, the law firm representing Ansevata, said the company was “prepared to refrain from commencing proceedings until the after your client’s (South Gippsland Shire Council’s) meeting on June 27, 2018.”
The dispute, which involves the alleged pollution of a dam by Council. The claim has been denied.
The law firm threatened that Council had seven days from the meeting to resolve the issue or face proceedings.
“In the meantime, we enclose copy of a summary of our clients (sic) claim for the opportunity cost of being able to take the water. The amount claimed for the period 27 February 2017 and 25 June 2018 is $249, 369.75 together with interest.”
*In separate news, Tarwin Lower resident John Zakula will face the Supreme Court on September 25 in relation to an investigation by the Local Government Inspectorate over the “unauthorised release of information from South Gippsland Shire Council”. The information in question was contained in an email written by Council CEO Tim Tamlin and allegedly to have been leaked to Mr Zakula by an SGSC councillor.