Central Goldfields Shire Council sacked, CEO charged

The Central Goldfields Shire Council in Victoria has been dismissed by a bill passed Parliament following the release of a report by the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate.

The report, Protecting integrity: Central Goldfields Shire Council investigation, found inadequate governance and mismanagement of key areas of responsibility within the organisation.

Chief Municipal Inspector, David Wolf, said his office had initially received allegations in 2016 relating to activities at council and the Chief Executive Officer, Mark Johnston.

Mr Johnston was stood down in July this year after he was charged with 41 charges in total, including two charges under the Local Government Act relating to conflict of interest, 34 charges under the Crimes Act relating to obtaining financial advantage by deception, and five charges of false accounting.

The report focuses on issues within council related to the management and sale of public assets, the management and expenditure of public funds, and an apparent apathy for laws and governance requirements at a senior leadership level.

“One of the fundamental issues uncovered in this investigation was the lack of transparency in decision making and management practices. This has affected the local community and the shire, which is one of the most disadvantaged local government areas in the state,” Mr Wolf said.

Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, the Council will be legally dismissed and an interim administrator will be installed to perform the roles and functions of the council. The Government will appoint three administrators who will act as the Council until the next election in October 2020.

The Victorian Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins said the Council had let down local residents and businesses.

“With the leadership of three Administrators, the Shire will be able to make the changes that are needed ahead of the October 2020 election.”

The Central Goldfields Shire covers 1,532 square kilometres and has an estimated residential population of just over 12,500 people. Maryborough is the shire’s major business centre with a population of around 7,500.

The Inspectorate's report is available here.

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