Inquiry found failings but no corruption

Inquiry found failings but no corruption

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Some former City of Canning councillors have advised the Examiner they have been ‘misrepresented’ because they were described as ‘sacked’ in an article last week instead of ‘dismissed’ after the inquiry into the city last year.

They also pointed out the Examiner failed to mention former Beeliar ward councillor Robert Morgan in its list of ‘sacked’ councillors running for council again this year.

The Macquarie dictionary defines ‘sack’ as ‘dismissal or discharge, as from employment’.

Five councillors from the former suspended council are running in October’s election including Mr Morgan, Joe Delle Donne, Stephen Boylen, Graham Barry and Megan O’Donnell.

Canning council has a rocky history having been dismissed in 1991 and again in 2014.

The spotlight was shone on Canning’s recent governance woes in February 2012 when former local government minister John Castrilli received a request from the then mayor Mr Delle Donne and others to conduct an inquiry into the city.

Mr Delle Donne, who was part of the dismissed council in 1991, raised concerns with the operation of the city by its administration.

Department of Local Government acting director general Jennifer Mathews authorised an inquiry into the city’s administrative and governance issues.

In November 2012 the inquiry’s report was published and recommended the council be suspended pending a further panel of inquiry investigation.

Mr Castrilli suspended the 11 sitting councillors on November 22, 2012 and in December that year Dr Chris Kendall was appointed as the panel of inquiry.

Former Armadale mayor Linton Reynolds was appointed as commissioner of Canning while the council was suspended before being replaced with the current three commissioners in September last year.

Dr Kendall investigated the city’s governance issues over 2013 and in May 2014 he published his report with 10 recommendations and 91 findings about the failings from both the council and the city’s administration.

In his report Dr Kendall recommended the council be dismissed and governance issues within the city be addressed but no criminal charges or further sanctions be made.

“…On numerous occasions the actions of one or more councillors contributed to a failure to provide good government to the persons of the City of Canning’s district and that on others, the actions of the council as a whole contributed to such a failure,” he said in the report.

“While in some instances, the failures on the part of the council may be seen as a reactionary response to difficulties caused by the administration or (former Canning chief executive Mark) Dacombe specifically as CEO, in other instances, the failures by council can be seen as the progenitor of problems giving rise to a failure to provide good government.

“The attitudes of many of the individual councillors seem entrenched over many years and based on the evidence before me, I cannot see them changing significantly.”

Dr Kendall also criticised Mr Delle Donne for not encouraging all councillors to work together for the interests of the city as a whole.

“The evidence demonstrated that mayor Delle Donne on occasion acted with an alienating style,” he said in the report.

“Further, at times he would act in an inconsistent manner towards councillors giving rise to perceptions of bias or favouritism.”

Despite his findings Dr Kendall found councillors and administrators acted ‘in what they considered to be the best interests of the ratepayers of the City of Canning’.

He said in the report he did not find evidence that any witness at the inquiry had ‘acted corruptly, deceitfully or deliberately in bad faith’.

“To that extent, any criticisms I have made about the conduct of individual witnesses, serious though they may be, do not attract any additional negative connotation that warrants additional sanction or investigation,” the report said.

In response to the report Local Government Minister Tony Simpson dismissed the council in September 2014.

At the time of the dismissal there were only four remaining sitting councillors out of the 11 suspended councillors, namely Bruce Mason, Graham Barry, Bev Olsen and Megan O’Donnell.

Stephen Boylen and Stuart Clarke resigned before the dismissal while Mr Delle Donne, Tim Dowsett, Mary Daly, Mr Morgan and Lindsay Elliott’s terms expired during their suspension.

In an email to the Examiner, a former councillor criticised the decision to dismiss the remaining councillors saying it was only made because there would not have been a quorum.

Dr Kendall said in the report that according to the Local Government Act 1995 the minister must reinstate the council if the inquiry had not recommended its dismissal or two years had elapsed since its suspension.

It did not mention the lack of a quorum.

Local Government Minister Tony Simpson said he dismissed the council because that is what Dr Kendall recommended in his report.

Dr Kendall’s report made nine other recommendations which included improving the city’s governance and procedures.

Since then the city has implemented several governance improvements including improved council meeting processes, decision making and a revised code of conduct.

It also changed standing orders so public question time was now included at both agenda settlement briefings and council meetings.

Full report into Canning

To read Mr Kendall’s full report search for Canning inquiry at dlg.wa.gov.au.

– Robyn Molloy and Hamish Hastie