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Two-pronged challenge for shire – acting CEO

South Gippsland Shire Council’s acting chiefexecutive officer Bryan Sword reckons there is an important two-pronged challenge facing both the community and the municipality after the Victorian Government dismissal of its elected councillors on June 19, 2019. 

“There’s two things I’d like to see happen here in South Gippsland after what was a long period of disruption and scrutiny from a political level,” Mr Sword said.

“These are; hearing from more people in the community, and having the community understand more about how local government works.

“The first thing means that council needs to get more from the community’s side, so the council and the staff learn what the wider community wants and needs.

“I encourage as many voices as possible to let us know what they think because if there’s only a small minority speaking out that’s all we get, however if there’s more people speaking, we get a wider and more accurate view,” he said.

“When the council is identifying and going through projects, we ask local people to get involved and to tell us their opinions.”

Mr Sword said the second point, “is a challenge for me to get the community to better understand what local government does, what services it provides and how it goes about doing just that.

“To use a sporting example to explain what I mean, a local government is like an umpire; when it does its job well, it doesn’t get noticed,” he said.

“My intention is to get to as many community meetings as possible and to engage in two-way conversations with people in their home towns and localities.

“I also invite more people to come along to the regular open briefings the council regularly holds, including during this period of administration and when the elected council returns in October 2021.”

Mr Sword said he wanted the community to know that in local government there was a definite distinction between a council’s role and that of the CEO and other senior council officers and staff.

“The council makes the decisions while the staff provides information and advice to the council, points out the various pieces of legislation and statutes that apply to local government, and then makes the council’s decisions work,” he said.

“Currently we have the government-appointed administrator Julie Eisenbise acting as the council for a 90-day period, which started on June 24, with a three-member panel to be chosen during that time by the Victorian Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek.

“I am glad for the South Gippsland community that the decision [to dismiss the elected council and to appoint administrators] was made so we know what the immediate future holds from a political stance,” Mr Sword said.

“First the administrator then the panel will allow us as a municipality to ease back into everyday matters, which helps people move on from where we’ve been.

“I’m hoping the panel of three administrators is announced sooner rather than later, so we all can get on with it properly.”

Local Government Minister Mr Somyurek told The Mirroron Monday July 15, 2019 that “we will be announcing the appointment of the administrator team for South Gippsland Shire Council shortly.”

Mr Sword said he, and indeed the council staff, needed to “wait to get the panel so I can get clear direction” and so help the shire to embrace the mooted changes to the Local Government Act 1989requiring councils to provide a long-term community vision resulting from demonstrable community engagement, among other goals.

“The changes to the Act might be through by the end of the year, and they correspond with what we want to achieve in any case, which is knowing what the community wants and an idea of what we might look like in 20 years’ time,” he said.

“I’d to say that despite what the staff has done during the past 12 months or more, the focus of the community has been on the political arm of the shire in the council chamber.

“What has happened has happened and I think there’s no need to revisit, though those people who are interested would get a better understanding if they read the reports of the two independent bodies that looked at the activities of the council.”

Mr Sword was referring to the report by Municipal Monitor Peter Stephenson presented to Mr Somyurek on March 21, 2019, and the Commission of Inquiry into South Gippsland Shire Council’s report tabled in the Victorian Parliament on June 19, 2019, which resulted in the sacking of the council.

Present South Gippsland Shire administrator Julie Eisenbise was one of the three commissioners examining the council, along with the Hon Frank Vincent AO QC as chair, and John Watson as their fellow commissioner.

Both reports may be found on the Victorian Parliament’s website at www.
parliament.gov.vic.au then clicking on Tabled Documents under either the Legislative Council or Legislative Assembly tabs, and then typing in “South Gippsland Shire Council” in the search engine of the “tabled documents database” link.

Mr Sword said he had been heartened by the fact that both reports had indicated that their authors had indicated they had “confidence in the level of administration” meaning the council staff, “though certainly there’s always things we can do better.

“The local community is continually changing and what was wanted and needed in years gone by aren’t necessarily what’s required now,” he said.

“We want to continue to understand and to respond to the current situation, to give the community a starting block and have people work with us.”

Mr Sword said a community-wide general discussion about the budget, what it contains, what it involves and how it was prepared each year was essential.

“A council budget is a fluid document and working on it is a continual process each year to refine the community’s needs and to balance a whole series of capital works and projects, and the ongoing provision of services within a limited, finite amount of resources,” he said.

“South Gippsland Shire has had a fluid 15-year financial plan in place for more than a decade and in this it is ahead of the curve, one of the proposed amendments to the Act, which is calling for 10-year financial plans.”

Mr Sword said the Minister’s decision to allow an extension to the deadline for the South Gippsland Shire’s budget for 2019/2020 gave Ms Eisenbise and the staff some “breathing room.

“This means that the community and ratepayers can have a level of confidence that the decision-makers have had time and the best information to make the best decision,” he said.

“The State Government gives the template for local government budgets, and in essence the template guides the budget that provides the funding that delivers the outcomes to the community.”

Among the items of interest to the Corner Inlet district to be funded in the 2019/2020 budget include $250,000 for a public toilet block and car parking at the Long Jetty in Port Welshpool; $631,000 for the Toora swimming pool and $197,000 for the Foster pool, and $1.7 million to renew and upgrade community building such as halls across the shire.

Dryrings Road in Foster has attracted a $125,000 seal upgrade, and Harding Lawson Road at Fish Creek has scored $95,000 to repair culverts.

There’s $142,000 for the Foster war memorial, and $143,000 has been allocated to new equipment for the Foster playground in Station Road, with $27,000 for the Meeniyan Kindergarten’s new play equipment.The sod turning ceremony for the capacity extension to the Fish Creek Kindergarten took place on Tuesday afternoon, July 16, 2019.

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