Michael Stefanovic is Chief Municipal Inspector and he has let Hepburn Shire down badly.
His Inspectorate is meant to investigate complaints about council operations, including councillors and staff, and to encourage transparency and accountability. It has failed dismally on both counts.
The Local Government Inspectorate commenced an investigation into Hepburn Council decision making on the Rex Community Hub in 2019. Three years later, it has still not completed its report.
Meanwhile the Rex project has been abandoned with losses to the community of at least $6 million and a significant crisis of confidence in the local council.
And now CEO Bradley Thomas has said that Council will not have an independent review of the cost blow outs and the management and governance of the Rex project because the Inspectorate has not yet reported.
When contacted in August, Steve Pogonowski, Senior Communications Advisor for the Local Government Inspectorate, advised the Wombat Post that a draft report had been circulated for comment to key stakeholders, including those named in the report.
Responses were meant to be finalised in August. It is now December and there is still no report.
The Wombat Post contacted Shaun Leane, the Minister for Local Government and Jaclyn Syme, the Attorney General (who has responsibility for the Inspectorate), for comment. Neither responded by the time of publication.
Ironically, the Local Government Inspectorate has become an impediment to accountability and transparency for the Hepburn Community.
When a Local Government makes serious mistakes that have significant costs to the community, it is not enough for Officers and Councillors to simply say they have learnt from the experience and that they have put in place new arrangements that will fix the problems for the future.
There are a number of important questions: Why did Council pay significantly above market value for the Rex? Were officers or councillors negligent? What consequences should be applied for the actions taken? Were alternatives to the Rex building properly considered as problems with the project were identified?
An independent and transparent review of the planning, management and governance of the failed Rex project should be conducted.
The review should also make recommendations on the issues the Rex project was meant to address, including the necessity to relocate the library, the need to address staff accommodation, options for supporting the Cinema and the future of the partially completed Rex building.
The Local Government Inspectorate Report is now late and out of date. It is unlikely to be much use in holding people accountable, fixing the problems for the future, or providing advice about what to do next.
Mr Stefanovic should get his Inspectorate’s report out of the way and the current Councillors should commission an independent and transparent review to sort out what has happened and to plan for the future.