Commission of inquiry into Ararat Rural City accuses councillors of failing to meet obligations in CEO termination

THE state government commission of inquiry into Ararat Rural City Council has accused councillors of potential breaches of their codes of conduct in the departure of chief executive Andrew Evans.

“The commission finds a current majority of the councillors have a disregard for the expenditure of funds with a proper policy justification and sound analysis,” the report, which has been tabled in the Victorian Parliament, stated.

“The commission finds an amount of $171,000 in excess of what was necessary was paid to the CEO upon his termination without regard to the future financial stability of the council. 

“The commission finds there also appeared to be no appreciation that the sum of $271,044 gross paid to the CEO as an ex gratia payment raised risk issues as to whether council had paid the CEO’s contractual entitlements.”

The commission’s main objective was to examine the council’s proposed rating strategy that would have abolished differential rates.

The inquiry was given terms of reference to investigate broader issues of governance.

In its findings, the commission accused councillors of attempting to install an interim candidate that would give them more control.

“The commission finds there was no sound or defensible reason for the termination of the CEO on July 7, 2017,” the report stated.

“The commission finds the majority of councillors failed in their obligation to act in the interest of the municipality at arm’s length from the CEO in the decision as to the termination.

“The commission finds the preparedness of the majority councillors to appoint Mr Neil Manning was intended to enable those councillors to have him do their bidding as required. 

“The commission finds while there appears now to be a commitment to appoint an independent interim CEO it appears to have only occurred by reason of what was perceived to be imminent adverse public comment by the commission.”

Ararat Mayor Paul Hooper said he could not comment on that section of the report due to confidentiality agreements in the recruitment process.

“In regard to the previous chief executive’s position, the commission is not covered by confidentiality clauses but I am because it was covered under confidentiality in a council meeting,” he said.

“I am not able to speak about that, as much as I would like to. I am bound by that confidentiality.”