Thursday, August 17, 2006

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.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

City rents luxury apartments for staff to experience the high life

devoid of reality John So and Co demonstrate they have no control

More extra-ordinary revelations exposed about the mismanagement of the Melbourne City Council under the governance of John So and co.

How long can the City administration continue to go on unchecked and without accountability.

The list of mismanagement and waste is never ending as the City Council shows that it has lost all touch of reality and is out of control. John So and co continue to demonstrate that they have no idea how to manage the affairs of the City adding to concern that direct election of Lord Mayor does not deliver good governance. Spring Street must be beginning to wonder if it did the right thing when it adopted a direct election model. It is time the City Council and its representative structure is subjected to a serious review. Hopefully this will take place as soon as the State election in November is over and Victoria appoints a Local Government Minister that takes a serious look at the structure of the Melbourne City Council and its boundaries.

Its time to reconsider amalgamations and a greater Melbourne City Council. One that is professional and representative.

MCC luxury rent plan cops blustein Kelly, city editor

August 12, 2006 12:00am

LOCAL residents are outraged that Melbourne City Council investigated renting an apartment on the Docklands waterfront so staff could "experience life" at the precinct.

City chief executive David Pitchford this week confirmed he discussed the possibility with prominent Docklands developer MAB Corporation.

Mr Pitchford said he thought "it may be a good idea to possibly give City of Melbourne staff a chance to experience life at Docklands".

The plan was for staff to "get to know Docklands better" by staying in a serviced apartment before the council regains control of the suburb from the State Government next July 1.

While the deal did not proceed, residents are furious the city considered wasting ratepayers' money on the exercise.

And former lord mayor Kevin Chamberlin called on the council to instead rent a unit in a high-rise Carlton housing estate to learn about city issues.

Docklands is only five minutes by tram from Melbourne Town Hall.

Mr Pitchford said "the level of detail of who was going to stay, and for how long, was not considered".

He said the only discussion in relation to payment was that the City of Melbourne would have paid whatever the market rate was.

"This was simply an idea I floated. We have now decided not to proceed with this idea."

Mab's prices range from $1120 a week for a one-bedroom serviced apartment to $2300 a week for three bedrooms.

Mr Chamberlin said it was clearly an inappropriate use of ratepayers' money.

"It's clear the Melbourne City Council has lost contact with the electorate to come up with crazy ideas like this," he said.

"If the council really wants to know how inner Melbourne works, they'd be better off renting an apartment in a high-rise housing estate in Carlton.

"Then they'd have unsurpassed views over the City of Melbourne, not like the Docklands where you have unsurpassed views over adjoining municipalities."

Southbank Residents Group president Joe Bagnara hit out at the idea, saying council staff should instead visit by day and take the free city circle tram.

"It's incomprehensible. They're away with the fairies on occasion. They could get on the city circle tram and it wouldn't cost anything at all," he said.

"Maybe they need to go have a look at their upcoming liability, because Docklands is going to be a liability.

"But they don't need to spend a month down there. A day-and-a-half would be enough."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Melbourne City slugged with debt

The price the Council are prepared to pay for for Melbourne's new designer region

Melbourne City Council regains control of the Melbourne Docklands precinct with a debt of over 8 Million Dollars raising ongoing concern over the mismanagement of the Docklands Development. The Docklands project and its management was the responsibility of the formerly Kennett State Government who basically issued the Docklands development authority free range and an open checkbook. The Docklands development whilst transforming an industrial wasteland was poorly managed with questionable benefits arsing from major planning and financial mismanagement.

Three Stars to Former Melbourne City Councillor Kevin Chamberlain who has been on top of this issue over the life of the project. John So and his team are so keen to claim the Docklands as part of Melbourne the financial management issues are the furthest from the Council's mind. The City Council has been left picking up the tab and will not see any real benefits to the city for years to come. The hand over deal should have been struck so that the City was not burdened with the financial liability of past mistakes by the Docklands authority. Again we see the week negotiating skills of John So and co at work. No doubts Rob Adams and his designer team are keen to make their mark on this new canvass as they forsake their duty and responsibility to the older parts of the city. They want something new to work on. Bamboo Rob is a top shelf expensive administrator who is renowned for back flips, and questionable integrity and budget overruns.

The Hearld Sun reports

Jen Kelly

August 09, 2006 12:00am

RATEPAYERS will be slugged with an unexpected $8.4 million debt when Melbourne City Council regains control over Docklands.

Councillors last night agreed to shoulder the colossal debt when it wins back the rates-rich precinct from State Government control.

Former lord mayor Kevin Chamberlin warned ratepayers would be hit hard by the debt and the cost of providing new services for Docklands.

"This debt will result in a further cut in services and a further increase in rates," he said.

"Given the perilous financial situation of the council, it is not capable of taking on any more State Government debt or obligation."

The $8.4 million operating deficit has arisen as the cost of providing services to the growing suburb has outweighed rates revenue.

The council hopes to begin taking control under a "trial marriage" next month, with the final handover on July 1 next year.

Since 1999, the booming suburb has been run by VicUrban and its predecessor, the Docklands Authority, on behalf of the State Government.

The council says the debt will not impact on services or rates for Docklands or other Melbourne ratepayers.

The council's Docklands spokesman, Cr Peter Clarke, said it was hoped the debt would be paid off from surplus revenue at Docklands over the next five years because its rates would outweigh costs of service provision.

But Mr Chamberlin warned the costs of providing services to meet high expectations from Docklands residents and businesses would far outweigh rates.

"Because of poor planning in the Docklands by the State Government, the expectations of the people now living there are very high," he said.

"The cost of meeting some of those expectations will exceed the rates revenue received from the entire area by a considerable amount.

"The municipal infrastructure in Docklands is non-existent -- child care, high-quality open space, aged care facilities, library, roads, footpaths.

"Their attitude is they've paid big figures for their units, they've been let down by the Government and now they expect the council to fill the gap."

The council's forecasts show the area will generate a surplus of about $1.8 million in 2007-08, with about $1 million of that to go towards the debt.

The council expects to pay off the debt in five years by committing about half the Docklands surplus each year until the debt is gone.

The council expects Docklands to reap $8.5 million in rates this financial year, rising to $46 million by 2020-21 when the suburb is finished. This would be close to a quarter of the city's expected total rates revenue by then.

Docklands is expected to be home to 20,000 Victorians and a workplace for 25,000

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Pitchford's contact up for renewal

It is time for a clean out and restoration of good governance

Melbourne has not had an effective CEO since the departure of Elizabeth Proust and Andy Friend. The quality of Governance has been in serious decline ever since. the rot set in under Micheal Malouf and Melbourne's current CEO has done little to restore confidence in the Council administration. His contract and time is up.

It was not long ago we reported that the City of Melbourne was not happy with CEO David Pitchford's appointment. We also made mention of information provided to us by the a source in the Councils governance department that David Pitchford's time was up following the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. Well our sources have been proven right. Information published in the Age Newspaper highlight the concern and pressure David is facing. The focus of the article is based on Melbourne City Council's fraudulent activities exposed by the State Ombudsman. There is much more to David's demise then the Traffic Infringement issue. Basically Kevin Chamberlain was right when he expressed concern over David's appointment. He was not the man for the job. His inability to maintain an open and transparent Government has been of ongoing concern. The City Council is caught up in corruption and cover-up.

Earlier this year we saw former City of Melbourne's legal advisor, Alison Lyons, resign from the City of Council in the lead-up to the State Ombudsman's report. David Pitchford has refused to make details of Councillors travel, free booze and catering expenses public. He has gone out of his way to avoid accountability and disclosure. The report of the Ombudsman is damming and certainly justification in its own to deny Pitchford and renewal of his contract. The City Council needs more reform and clean out. The Council is internal cultural or ongoing avoidance and cover up. It is time that the City administration is brought to account. If the CEO is incapable of addressing community concerns then the Council must act to have him replaced along with the manager of Council's Governance department who should also be under review..

City chief under pressure of Ombudsman probe
By Rachel Kleinman
August 1, 2006
Pressure mounted on Melbourne City Council's chief executive yesterday as the State Ombudsman launched a fresh investigation into the council's traffic and parking branch.

Councillors will decide next month on the future of David Pitchford's $250,000-a-year contract.

One councillor, who did not wish to be named, told The Age yesterday that Mr Pitchford was under "significant pressure" as a result of State Ombudsman George Brouwer's new inquiry. "We are absolutely sick of being kept in the dark about the ramifications of these issues," the councillor said.

"Councillors are concerned that the CEO does not appear to be on top of this issue."

A colleague, who also refused to be named, said councillors received an email from Mr Pitchford's office yesterday morning, which announced that the Ombudsman would hold a fresh investigation into the parking and traffic branch, under the terms and conditions of the Whistleblowers Act. They were directed not to discuss the matter and were not told about the extent of the investigation.

Mr Brouwer's first investigation, concluded in April, found that the council had issued thousands of dollars worth of unauthorised parking tickets between 2002 and 2005.

His report pointed to morale problems, and complaints of bullying and harassment within the branch. That inquiry was triggered early last year by a whistleblower.

It found that senior staff had ignored warnings from lawyers about the unauthorised issuing of fines and prosecution of motorists who failed to pay.

Responding to Mr Brouwer's report in April, Mr Pitchford said: "It is most unfortunate the practices, albeit in good faith, were allowed to continue for such a long period."

The council has drawn up a 46-point plan to deal with the State Ombudsman's concerns, and says most of them are already being implemented.

But the new development has put Mr Pitchford's performance back in the spotlight. His existing contract expires in September 2007, but councillors could extend it until September 2009. They must decide by next month, or begin a search for a new chief executive.

Speaking off the record to The Age this year, several councillors have consistently refused to back the performance of Mr Pitchford since his 2003 appointment.

A spokeswoman for Mr Pitchford yesterday refused to comment about the new investigation.