Heads begin to roll But CEO and Lord Mayor not held accountable

The Melbourne City Council has began to swing the axe following the recent Ombudsman investigation and report into corruption in the Council administration earlier this year.

Alison Lyon, Council’s former legal and Governance (sic) officer, had escaped review by her early resignation of her position with the City Council, thus avoiding the possibility of being dismissed.

The City Council acting on false legal advise, tried to thwart and hinder the Ombudsman’s investigation. Thankfully the Ombudsman’s department was not going to be intimidated by such tactics and continued with its investigation.

The City Council is renowned for misusing and abusing the legal system to avoid accountability.

The Ombudsman investigation found that the Council administration had acted inappropriately in a corrupt manner bordering on outright deceit. The Council administration when caught-out began a excise of cover-up, lies and denial of the Council’s knowledge and involvement in serious mis-management.

Whilst we welcome the decision of the Council to begin to address the issue of corruption the fact remains that the CEO also should be held accountable for the problems identified. He must be held accountable along with the Council’s Governance department. They can not and should not escape responsibility.

It is incumbent on the Lord Mayor to act independently and call for the resignation of the Council’s CEO and head of Council’s Governance and Finance departments. Failure to do so will only reflect poorly on the elected Council who will continue to be seen to be implicated in the in-house cover-up and attempt to avoid accountability. They are only seen to act when they are caught out.

If the Lord Mayor does not act then the elected Council must take action by holding a open and transparent and open investigation in to the management of the Council.

It is not satisfactory to just just hold secret behind closed door meetings in the hope that the issue will go away. Anything short of an open investigation will only continue to bring the City Council into ongoing disrepute undermining further public confidence in the City of Melbourne.

The Age newspaper reports…

City council removes traffic boss
Rachel Kleinman
August 16, 2006

Branch manager Noel Reid has been removed in favour of troubleshooter Steven Nagle, council chief executive David Pitchford announced yesterday. Mr Nagle will start today.

Mr Reid will be moved to the facilities management branch for the remainder of his contract. He and his deputy each received an official warning.

They had shown poor judgement and were reprimanded for clearly unacceptable behaviour, Mr Pitchford said.

He said the action, in response to a scathing State Ombudsman’s report, would reform the council’s management of parking and traffic.

The Ombudsman’s report in April revealed that a dysfunctional team of parking officers had illegally issued parking fines worth $50,000 between 2002 and last year.

Two new assistant managers will join Mr Nagle, who has worked for the State Government, RMIT University and the Victorian Taxi Directorate.

Australian Services Union industrial officer Leanne Sumpter said morale in the parking and traffic branch was low.

The union has yet to be briefed on the changes.

“At this point I don’t know much,” Ms Sumpter said. “(But) some officers feel attacked from both inside and outside the organisation. Some feel they have been made scapegoats.”

Mr Pitchford said all 160 staff members would have performance reviews and further casualties could not be ruled out.

“There have been problems within this branch for 15 years,” Mr Pitchford said.

“This is an entirely new team and will bring a fresh approach to the way the branch operates.”

The branch would shift its focus from enforcement and fines to customer service.

Mr Pitchford admitted the council might lose revenue through the change.

“I am happy to wear that if it means that we are issuing parking infringement notices for bona fide offences,” he said.

He said these changes were part of a 46-point plan aimed at fixing problems highlighted in Ombudsman George Brouwer’s report.

Two Melbourne councillors, who refused to be named, told The Age last month they doubted Mr Pitchford’s competence in handling the affair.

Their attack came after Mr Brouwer launched a second investigation into allegations that the whistleblowers who triggered the original probe were later intimidated and bullied by senior council staff.

Under the Whistleblowers Protection Act, it is a criminal offence punishable by up to two years in jail to take revenge on or threaten reprisals against a whistleblower.

Lord Mayor John So said yesterday: “Following the Ombudsman’s report, I demanded an assurance from the chief executive to act on the recommendations and address all the issues immediately. I’m happy that action has been taken.”

But council sources have told The Age that, in private, Cr So’s attitude towards Mr Pitchford has cooled in recent weeks and his contract may not be extended beyond September next year.