Council workers feared copping public abuse

Some Latrobe City Council staffers were concerned about wearing their work uniforms in public for fear of copping abuse from the community.

This was one of the issues taken to independent monitor Lyndon Webb during his four-month appointment to Latrobe City.

“The vast majority of people at Latrobe are dedicated and committed to their community,” Mr Webb told The Express.

“I know there are people in that organisation who feel very badly if they go down the street and they wear their Latrobe clothes, they run the risk of being abused and they take that very badly because they are very committed to the community.

“I think they feel they’ve been unjustly tarred by the same brush that has been used in the media reports.

“It stems from publicity given to the corruption allegations (which emerged in June 2014).”

Mr Webb was appointed by former Local Government Minister Tim Bull in August at council’s own request, to focus on governance, procurement, finance and relations among and between councillors and council officers.

This week council announced Mr Webb’s tenure would not be extended.

He told The Express he believed council had the “wherewithal to manage its own affairs”.

“Nobody could say Latrobe’s a basket case, nobody,” he said.

“But I think it was a good thing to have somebody come in to provide insight and assistance.”

Among the changes Mr Webb wants to see is that council ensures its long-term financial plan is sustainable and addresses the needs of the various towns within the municipality.

He said one of council’s greatest challenges was community concerns about where it spends its capital funds, which had been raised by “numerous community groups”.

“Council need to communicate to the community where the needs are and how they will meet those needs,” Mr Webb said.

He said council had taken steps to address its procurement and contract management.

“That includes tightening of procurement requirements, more focus on the management of specifying works and acquisitions and ensuring that everything is done fairly and anybody who has the capacity to tender for that should get the opportunity to do so,” Mr Webb said.

He said while some councillors had expressed a degree of disappointment with officer follow-ups on matters, he saw overall comprehensive reports were presented to council and it was able to rely on those.

“All councillors are individuals and some people have different needs from others,” he said.

“Their reaction to the information provided can vary.”

Mr Webb said he believed improved internal complaints procedures would be “high on the agenda” of new council chief executive Gary Van Driel.

On 16 October 2014 The Express reported dissatisfaction with council’s complaints procedures through an unfair dismissal case by former council employee Alan Cox, who claimed he was harassed and bullied after he took allegations of corrupt hiring practices within council’s maintenance department to senior management in August 2012.

Mr Webb said council’s complaints process had been raised “by some people” during his term.

“I think part of the issue has been people haven’t felt confident that if they have a complaint that they can with equanimity make their complaint and have it treated properly,” he said.

“I spoke to senior people in the organisation about the processes and I believe that is being addressed and that it would be high on the agenda of the new CEO from my discussions with him.”

Mr Webb said he believed Mr Van Driel had the capacity to meet the challenges facing council.

“He’s come to Latrobe with a strong spirit of getting Latrobe on the track that it needs to be,” he said.

“The council has a strong priority to create jobs and I think that needs a sound strategic approach and consultation with the community as to how that needs to be achieved.

“They have a strong desire to make Latrobe a leading regional city. They need to get their focus clear on that and communicate that to the community.”