Whittlesea council out within days

Whittlesea councillors have been sacked by the state government. (Supplied) 206645_01

By Laura Michell

Whittlesea council has been sacked by the state government.

The bill to dismiss the council passed State Parliament this afternoon, with councillors to be replaced by an interim administrator within days.

Administrators will be appointed to the council until the October 2024 local government elections, despite attempts by Greens leader Samantha Ratnam and Western Metropolitan MP Catherine Cumming to amend the bill to allow elections to be held in 2021 and 2023 respectively.

Several upper house MPs, including Dr Cumming, said they did not agree with the council being sacked.

The decision to sack the council follows a report from municipal monitor Yehudi Blacher which said the governance of the council had collapsed, “along with its reputation”.

He labelled Whittlesea a “broken council” in which “poisons run deep”.

Mr Blacher’s report found that the council’s deep divides and personality conflicts have rendered it “dysfunctional”.

His report also stated councillors had failed to provide stability in the council’s senior leadership, with five chief executives in five years.

Mr Blacher revealed the council spent $500,000 over the past two years on legal matters relating to a councillor’s working relationship with former council chief executive Simon Overland and other councillors, as well as legal action taken by Mr Overland against the council regarding his dismissal while on WorkCover.

Mr Blacher said councillor behaviours were not consistent with the Councillor Code of Conduct.

Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek said the government had not taken the decision to sack the council lightly.

“The monitor found serious failures by Whittlesea City councillors and we acted swiftly to protect residents and ratepayers,” he said.

“Over the next four years, administrators will work with the CEO to ensure council services are delivered effectively and that the health and wellbeing of council staff is prioritised.

“We will now work towards rebuilding the council so it can provide the first-class services and representation the local community deserves.”

Earlier today, mayor Emilia Lisa Sterjova held a press conference, in which she said the problems at council were the result of the “bullying” and “misogyny” of two councillors.

Flanked by deputy mayor Alahna Desiato and Cr Caz Monteleone, Cr Sterjova said the majority of councillors did not deserve to be sacked.

She also raised concerns about Mr Blacher’s report, labelling it as “rushed” and said his recommendation to sack the council was “flawed”.

Cr Sterjova questioned why the council was being sacked when local government elections were scheduled for October.

Council acting chief executive Joe Carbone thanked Mr Somyurek for accepting Mr Blacher’s recommendations and for acting on them quickly.

“We are pleased that the monitor has made his recommendations at this early stage rather than waiting the full six months of his appointment,” he said.

“Our focus is, and always has been, to serve our community. The past three months has been unsettling for our staff and community. In this challenging time, where coronavirus (COVID-19) is rapidly evolving and changing the way we go about our normal everyday lives, our focus can be solely on supporting our community as best we can.”