Mary Walsh commenting on "Watchdog Worry" article, Sunday Herald Sun 12 July 2009
Watchdog Worry SHS Article July 12, 2009
State Government appointee to a committee that investigates local councillor misconduct is under a cloud over action during his time as Macedon Ranges mayor.
Former councillor Noel Harvey was appointed in June by Local Government Minister Rich Wynne to the Municipal Association of Victoria's Councillor Conduct Panel.
But Mr Harvey's conduct is under investigation over allegations he extended the employment contract of Macedon Range chief executive Peter Johnston without the proper authorisation.
Mayor John Letchford is seeking independent legal advice over Mr Johnston's contract.
In Oct 2007, Macedon Ranges Council voted to offer Mr Johnston a three year contract as chief executive with the option of a two year extension.
Councillors have claimed the no contract was ever signed, but Mr Johnston began work in January last year on the basis of his letter of offer.
Last July, Mr Harvey told the councillors that Mr Johnston wanted his contract extended to five years, but allegedly no formal resolution was ever put to the Council authorising the change.
Mr Harvey then allegedly offered Mr Johnston a contact for five years without affixing the council's seal to the document which, it is claimed could make it invalid.
Mr Harvey, this week acknowledged a failure to affix the seal to the contract as an error., but said all councillors agreed to grant Mr Johnston his extension.
But former councillor Tom Gyorffy said he had not been contacted by Mr Harvey on the issue.
Another councillor who did not want to be named said it could cost the council a lot of money.
"At the very least there's an issue of competence and we need to investigate if there has been any wrongdoing" he said.
Mr Harvey said the whole issue was politically motivated and had only been raised since he was appointed to the Councillor Conduct Panel.
"It is a bit of shame and a distraction" he said.
Mr Harvey - who also sits on the boards of Parks Victoria and Coliban Water - defended his appointment to the conduct panel.
"The Government has been good to me, but I stand on my record" he said.
I have been awarded an OAM for services to my local community and I also been appointed to position by the previous government"
Footnote: With respect to Mr Harvey's ability to hold the role of an ex councillor investigating councillor misconduct is always going to be fraught with controversy.
I made this point in my submission to the State Government at the time this process was being planned. I recommended there be a complete separation of duties between the history of those investigating "their own" and the investigators. Retired police could have undertaken the role, well trained in fraudulent activity.
Perceptions are an important tool in creating trust for the system within the minds of residents.
I felt the same with the Glen Eira investigation by Merv Whelan who himself was a past CEO of a Council investigating alleged breaches by this city CEO.
Mr Harvey seems to have a problem understanding the issues here. He was grossly incompetent in his role as Mayor to have omitted to bring the item of business to the Council for Resolution and the CEO, Mr Peter Johnston is also incompetent in that he failed to advise the Council on what the Local Government Act required of them in order to meet the guidelines regarding the extension of his contract.
Neither man in their role as Mayor or the CEO would have failed to forget such an important reappointment initiative as having the full Council formally adopt the idea. Was it a conspiracy to pervert the course of the legislation?
Who cares that he was awarded an Order Australia (Merit?)...they're a dime a dozen and handed out carelessly to many who go on to be shown unworthy of the honour although in Mr Noel Harvey's case, I would have no idea.
I feel concerned about his degree of integrity though to understand the process and yet he himself with become a State's Watchdog for the honesty and integrity of others.
Had Mr Harvey done his job properly, it seems, former councillor Tom Gyorffy would not now be disputing his word saying that he knew nothing of the contract extension arrangement.
And what of the competency of the CEO, Peter Johnston, who either didn't know the rules or choose to ignore them. Either way, I feel, he is shown to be incompetent or worse, in charge of the finances and administration of a Council.
Why should it now cost the Macedon Ranges Council any money (and therefore the ratepayers!) because the CEO didn't apply the rules to his own appointment to be rid of him.
posted by Mary Walsh