SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council administrator Julie Eisenbise believes the local community is in “powerful” health despite the political turbulence that resulted in Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek dismissing the elected council on June 19, 2019.
Ms Eisenbise attended the shire’s community grants award ceremony held in Leongatha on Wednesday July 10, 2019, and she was struck by the universally “positive” outlook of the people receiving the grants on behalf of their various groups, clubs and organisations.
“To me, the strong volunteerism I saw indicates a strong, healthy community, one which is so powerful and is involved in lots of activities,” she said.
“I’d like to congratulate the community and to let everyone know that I’m looking forward to going out and about and learning more about this shire.”
At the end of the third week of her 90-day appointment at the helm of the shire Ms Eisenbise said she was “thoroughly enjoying” her job so far, and that she had felt “warmly welcomed” by both the community and the council staff.
“I am conscious of what’s got to be done during my time as the appointed administrator, and I would like people to know that I am working for the shire with a high level of commitment.”
Minister Somyurek will be appointing a three-member administrative panel to run the shire until councillor elections are held on October 30, 2021 within this 90-day period.
“There is a lot of work to do, including moving many aspects of the council’s plan forward and getting needed projects going,” Ms Eisenbise said.
“It’s critical to see that the council has full accountability so that the community knows we are working within the plan.”
Ms Eisembise was referring to the municipality’s revised 2017/2022 council plan, a document setting out the intentions of the council for the next three years, which she deferred to the July 24, 2019 open meeting at her first meeting and her third day as administrator on June 26.
The deferral also included the shire’s 2019/2020 annual budget and its 2019/2022 rating strategy, to allow Ms Eisenbise more time to be briefed on and to study all three documents, which together represent the crux of the shire.
Ordinarily Victorian local governments must adopt their annual budgets and strike their rates for the following financial year by June 30 of each year, and to present annual budget to the Local Government Minister of the time.
Given South Gippsland Shire Council being placed into administration before June 30 this year, Ms Eisenbise applied for and was granted a two-month extension for the lodgement of its budget by Minister Somyurek, which expires at the end of August.
Ms Eisenbise said she and council staff members had been “refining the wording and making a few minor adjustments” to the current council plan, as well as discussing and reviewing the budget and the rating strategy.
“I’m used to looking at such documents,” she said, referring to her period as a councillor and as mayor of Manningham City Council in metropolitan Melbourne, “and I have a familiarity with their format.
“Next year we [referring to the panel of administrators, to which Ms Eisenbise may or may not be appointed] want a new plan, and to do that we will be undertaking extensive consultation with this very diverse shire’s population to find out their needs,” she said.
“The panel will actually go out and meet with people to get their expectations and for them to get to know the limits travel from one end of the shire to the other.
“We want to start to help people understand how local government actually works and how much money the shire’s got,” Ms Eisenbise said.
“There is a need to be realistic, but we do want to do what the community wants and we need them to suggest what we pick as the primary projects, those that will help the entire community, as well as those projects they would like to see funded.
“I’d like to reassure the community that those things that are already locked in will continue,” she said.
“We want to hear about the positives and the negatives, and we understand that while many will be happy with our decisions, we’re always going to upset some people along the line.
“In my view this communication has got to be a three-way thing between the community, the office (meaning the council and in the interim, me, then the panel of administrators) and the council staff.
“We’ve got to get rid of the alienation that seems to have come along, and to let the community know that they will be listened to and their opinions considered,” Ms Eisenbise said.
“While serving on the Victorian Grants Commission I have visited all of the 79 metropolitan and rural municipalities in the state, and I have to say that South Gippsland is unique.
“There is a big number of individual communities, some 28 or 29, and it’s astonishing how many localities there are on the list I was shown,” she said.
“Another difference to a city municipality are the vast distances to travel from one end of the shire to the other.
“A common question all councils get including this one is ‘why are my rates so high?’ and one answer here is that we have to provide and look after facilities like public halls and toilet blocks across so many little towns and villages,” Ms Eisenbise said.
“People are always protective of their area and their community, and that applies just the same in the city as well as in the country.
“In the early days of the panel of administrators a full tour of the South Gippsland Shire is already being planned so the panel can see for themselves all of the places and the issues where they are, as well as meeting local people,” she said.“We ask people to become involved with their shire council, and to contact us and to identify the issues they might have and allow us to find out so we are ready and briefed and can let them know the correct information.”