Ratepayers are unlikely to see the contents of a review of Horsham Rural City Council's decision making process regarding the City to River masterplan.
In a statement on Wednesday, chief executive Sunil Bhalla confirmed he initiated an audit into the project "to identify areas which might benefit from improvement for future projects".
It followed attempts at the council's most recent meeting to bring the audit out of confidential matters.
On Tuesday, Cr John Robinson said he and Councillor David Grimble had been agitating for an audit of City to River for almost a year, and that the aim of such an audit was to give residents confidence in the process.
While not confirming the council wouldn't release it, Mr Bhalla said the review was undertaken by the council's internal auditors.
"As an organisation, we are always looking at ways to improve and do things better. Council undertakes internal audits on an ongoing basis to test compliance and identify opportunities for improvement in its policies, procedures, projects, systems, etc," he said.
The Mail-Times requested an interview with Mr Bhalla, but this was declined in favor of written responses to questions.
Among the questions the Mail-Times asked the chief executive was: The council's satisfaction survey for this year said that it needed to rebuild its relationship with the public re consultation, particularly over the City to River project. Not releasing the audit appears to be contrary to that recommendation. How does the council intend to address this issue without releasing the audit results?
Mr Bhalla responded: "The results of the satisfaction survey has highlighted (a) range of areas we need to work on, and as an organisation we are absolutely committed to work hard to see improvement in those areas. As a result of the survey, extra efforts are being made to engage with our community.
"Clearly we need to make changes to meet the community's evolving expectations. Council has many commitments to deliver on and our community is demanding we do better in a number of areas."
At its ordinary meeting on June 22, Councillor John Robinson attempted to get the report heard in open council by moving the governance review from confidential items into officers' reports.
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The Council debated whether to bring discussion of the review into open council in private, briefly suspending the meeting to do so. Cr Robinson argued the section of the Local Government Act (2020) Mr Bhalla was relying on to make the debate confidential - Section 89(2)(h) - no longer existed.
The council ultimately resolved "that the Officers provide further clarity around the City to River Audit Report (agenda item 15.1) and that the report be deferred until we receive further advice".
"What was actually done was not an audit," he said on Tuesday. "It was a review of the process despite the undertakings that were given that every decision in relation to City to River would be audited, that didn't happen. Councillor Grimble and myself had no input into what was audited.
"You have to say what was to be audited was the decisions of the mayor and chief executive in relation to City to River.
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"David Grimble's motion in August (which was defeated) was around 'let's audit the decision making so everyone's happy if it stacks up'. So the audit, which was actually a process review, got done, and the chief executive decided it was not to be released to the community, so you have to ask why did we do it in the first place?"
On Wednesday, Mr Bhalla said the audit had been designated as confidential under section 77 of the act, which is still in operation.
The Local Government Act (2020) is being gradually implemented over the next several years after being passed into law in March.
In June, the council's 2020 Community Satisfaction Survey was released, showing its approval had slipped by ten points with "community decisions" and "consultation and engagement" two key areas where satisfaction dropped.
The City to River masterplan, which was on public exhibition in 2019, proposes sweeping changes to Horsham City Oval, city centre, the Wimmera river front and Horsham Showgrounds across 20 years.
Ratepayers have previously expressed frustrations that residents weren't adequately consulted while the plan was being drafted.
In 2020, planning for works has begun in one "sub-precinct" of the plan, with a Community Reference Group established to determine how best to activate the riverfront.
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