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Heavy handed probe accusation

A WA Government department has been accused of heavy handedness in its dealings with complaints against WA councils.

In the wake of yet another investigation into the dealings of a WA council, the WA Municipal Association claimed the Local Government Department has acted unfairly.

Local Government Department executive director John Lynch denied the accusation.

Following last week’s release of the damning City of South Perth Inquiry Report into the workings of the council and Tuesday’s suspension of South Perth Council, it has emerged the WAMA has complained to the Local Government Department about the way such inquiries are conducted.

WAMA president Ian Mickel said some WAMA members considered the review process had not taken into account natural justice or procedural fairness.

“Rightly or wrongly, a number of councils have expressed to us their dissatisfaction with the way investigations are conducted and the conclusions that have been arrived at,” Mr Mickel said.

“While I’m not in a position to make judgements about these things, I am concerned to ensure the process used by the department is fair and equitable.”

Mr Lynch said the department was scrupulous in following procedural fairness.

“The Crown Solicitor advised us procedural fairness means the person affected is made aware of the allegation against them and given an opportunity to respond,” he said.

Mr Lynch said his department received many complaints about the actions of councils and individual councillors.

“The bulk of our inquiries don’t turn up any wrong doing,” he said.

In the past year the Department of Local Government has dealt with inquiries into the City of Cockburn, Stirling City Councillor Eoin Martin and Augusta Margaret River chief executive Max Eastcott.

The focus has turned to the City of South Perth, centering on allegations former CEO Lyndsay Metcalf was improperly replaced with David Moylan.

Mr Moylan has since stepped aside and will be replaced with the council’s executive director corporate management until an acting CEO can be found.

The department’s enquiry has recommended the council be suspended and the city be run by commissioners.

If the council is suspended, another inquiry will be held to determine whether it is dismissed or returned.

If the council is dismissed, the commissioners will stay on until the Department is happy with the way the council is being run and elections can be held.

One problem facing councils is inexperience. In some cases the majority of councillors can be replaced at an election. There is also no longer a requirement for council CEOs to have special qualifications.

Institute of Municipal Management president Lindsay Delahaunty said there was a risk a manager could go in and start trying to run a council as a business.

“The audit requirements facing councils are quite stringent. They have various statutory returns they have to make,” Mr Delahaunty said.

“Unless the CEO is aware of these responsibilities, the council can quite easily, and in a very short time, get into some difficulties.”

The City of South Perth appears to have had a high level of turnover recently at its highest level.

In the past year it has removed Mr Metcalf, who was considered an astute CEO, and several of the council’s senior staffers were removed. Insiders suggested this left the council with just two experienced council executives and Mayor Suzanne Pierce in executive control while the council was undergoing a major corporate restructure.

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