Council ‘secrecy’ infuriates community

Latrobe City Council’s decision to keep details of an independent review of its own governance processes out of the public eye has drawn a barrage of community criticism.

The review relates to council’s handling of the Moe railway revitalisation project and the overarching plan for Moe’s central business district.

On Monday night it was listed on council’s agenda in the ‘closed to the public’ section of the meeting for the third time this year and an attempt by Cr Darrell White to allow the matter to be discussed in front of the full public gallery failed.

He argued the matter was of a “vital interest” to the community and should be discussed in the public arena.

“This council is fiercely concerned about honesty, transparency and accountability to our local community,” Cr White said.

“If you’re fair dinkum about transparency and honesty, you’ll be supporting this,” he told his fellow councillors.

“If not, what are you saying?”

The vote was tied, with crs White, Graeme Middlemiss and Kellie O’Callaghan in support of bringing the matter out of the closed section of the meeting, and crs Harriman, Christine Sindt and Michael Rossiter opposed.

As chair of that section of the meeting, Cr Harriman cast the deciding vote against the motion.

He was filling in for acting mayor Sharon Gibson who, along with Cr Peter Gibbons, declared an interest in the matter and left the room for the vote.

Traralgon resident Anne Murphy, who ran for the East Ward in last year’s Latrobe City election, and has publicly questioned council’s secrecy on the Moe matter, described Monday night’s decision as an insult to the whole of the Latrobe Valley.

She said the decision was a direct contradiction of council’s own value of transparency.

Committee for Moe president Manny Gelagotis said Monday’s proceedings were “shambolic”, while Advance Morwell president John Guy described the meeting as “a bit of a circus”.

“The secrecy really implies they’ve got something to hide and I think as ratepayers we’ve got a right to know,” Mr Guy said.

“Why ask for a review and then not publish the results of it?”

Council commenced the external, independent review in response to four community submissions in March which raised concerns about council’s governance process in relation to the Moe project dating back to its inception more than six years ago.

Cr Harriman said he believed the review needed to be discussed in confidence.

“There are reasons we have things in closed sessions and it’s not because there are bad things about council, there are legal requirements that have to be followed,” Cr Harriman said.

“Those reasons were strong enough to keep it in at this point in time.”

Latrobe City has previously indicated the matter was listed in the closed section of meetings under section 89.2H of the Local Government Act which states meetings should be open to the public unless they discuss a matter which the council considers would “prejudice the council or any person”.

As part of Moe’s town centre revitalisation, council plans to construct a library, cafe, public meeting rooms and a skate park along the George Street railway precinct.

Some community members opposed aspects of the plan, including the relocation of the library from Kirk Street and newly-elected councillor Peter Gibbons last December successfully moved to re-examine the project.

The decision drew fierce criticism and opposition from thousands of residents, resulting in council adopting the project in March with no changes.


Councillor Dale Harriman has defended his decision to vote on the Moe railway revitalisation project governance review on Monday night.

Cr Harriman was afforded greater power than his colleagues in voting on whether to bring the matter out of the closed section of the meeting to be debated in full view of the public.

He was voted to chair the meeting while acting mayor Sharon Gibson was outside chambers, as she and Cr Peter Gibbons had declared an interest in the matter and left for the vote.

This appointment proved critical in the final decision, as the vote was split, three-all, leaving Cr Harriman, as chair, to cast the deciding vote in opposition to bringing the governance review into the open section of the meeting.

But some members of the community have since questioned why Cr Harriman voted at all.

Committee for Moe president Manny Gelagotis and Traralgon resident Anne Murphy, who a fortnight ago called for the matter to be debated publicly, queried why Cr Harriman remained in chambers to vote on Monday night, when for previous decisions relating to the Moe revitalisation project, he had declared an interest and did not vote.

“If he had a conflict last time, why doesn’t he now?” Ms Murphy said.

Cr Harriman told The Express his original interest did not apply to Monday night’s proceedings and such was his legal advice.

He said his “conflicting personal interest” applied to decisions on whether or not to approve and fund the Moe project itself and did not extend to the governance review matter.

“This issue relates to a review, rather than going ahead with, or funding the project. It relates to procedural matters,” Cr Harriman said.

“I had no reason to leave the room, so as a councillor, I’m required to stay in the room.”

Cr Harriman did not reveal the exact nature of his conflicting personal interest.