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Message from the Chief Municipal Inspector

As we enter the second phase of the four year council term, my office is noting a rise in thematic complaints, particularly in respect to the interaction between councillors and council staff and the use of council resources and expenses. In many cases, the complaints concern councils that do not have adequate policies or guidelines in place to set the ‘ground rules’ for operational interaction, or councils that have policies and guidelines in place but have tolerated inconsistent application.

Both scenarios create frustrations for councillors who, in most cases, are genuinely seeking information or advice. However, this can be quite unsettling for staff in terms of the balance of power and what they are being asked to do or provide.

In this edition of integrity matters, we identify a recent investigation where an allegation of misuse of position was substantiated in relation to the interaction between a councillor and staff member but also identified a clear gap in the organisational policy and codes of conduct to set out the process for the councillor to raise an operational issue. This case highlighted the importance of ‘ground rules’ to protect councilliors against allegations of improper direction and to assist staff in the provision of service to the elected council.

As part of our recommendations to council in the above case and our broader objective of encouraging higher standards, we are sharing examples of good practice or policies and guidelines observed in our work across the state. In this edition we note the work of Wyndham City Council towards developing and updating their policy on councillor and staff interaction and also the work of Hobsons Bay Council related to council governance schedules. Thank you to both councils for sharing these examples.

David Wolf

Chief Municipal Inspector

Council resources and state elections
voting booths

With many councillors nominating as candidates in the upcoming state government election, it’s important that resources associated with the office of councillor are not used for the purpose of campaigning.

Resources of the municipality that are required for councillor functions include council phones, cars, letterhead, logo, email and printing. If a councillor who is a candidate misuses these resources, they may be in contravention of the misuse of position provisions of the Local Government Act 1989 and a proven offence may affect their ability to hold public office.

Although not required under the current legislation, the Inspectorate advises that councillors who are candidates take an approved leave of absence to avoid any conflicts with their councillor role and any inadvertent use of council resources.


For candidates who decide not to take leave, it is important that there is no use or perceived use of council resources for the purpose of campaigning.

The Inspectorate has previously investigated matters related to improper use of council resources in state and federal campaign election periods and will continue to monitor candidate activities during the upcoming 2018 elections.

If there are concerns about the use of council resources, the Inspectorate should be contacted via the secure online form accessible through the Complaints page on the Inspectorate website.

Councillor-staff interactions
older manager arguing with employee

High performing councils are commonly those that foster good working relationships between councillors and council staff. These working relationships are often built on a foundation of values, respect and clear guidelines to ensure councillors have access to information but do not risk falling foul of the laws preventing improper direction or influence of staff.

These relationships, and performance of council staff, can be impacted when elected councillors seek to influence or improperly direct council staff, particularly those with delegated decision making powers in areas such as local laws, planning and legal services.

The Inspectorate recently completed an investigation where it was alleged that councillors had attempted to influence the council’s prosecution of a resident. Two councillors attended a court hearing in apparent opposition to council’s prosecution case and spoke to the council prosecutor and other council staff present.

This raised issues over the implied pressure on council staff by councillors and also the reputation of council where the organisational policy supported a prosecution but elected councillors publicly opposed it.

Subsequent to the court hearing, one councillor approached the council legal services manager attempting to secure the withdrawal of the prosecution case. In this second interaction the councillor was found to be in breach of the misuse of position laws under the Local Government Act 1989.

During the investigation, however, the Inspectorate found the council did not have a policy that set out clear guidance to address interactions between councillors and council staff on operational matters.

On the basis of the gaps in formal guidance at the council, the Inspectorate elected to issue a warning to the councillor for the interaction with the legal services manager and made the following recommendations to council:

Adopt a policy specifically addressing interaction between councillors and council staff and in particular interaction with staff carrying out the functions under a delegated authority, as is common across the sector;

Amend the existing councillor code of conduct to include a reference to the above mentioned policy;

Following adoption of the above policy, ensure that all councillors are trained in respect to the new policy.

In previous work, the Inspectorate has reviewed councillor/staff interaction policies across the sector. Wyndham Council is one example of an organisation that has recently reviewed and is in the process of updating its Councillor-Staff Interaction and Email Policy, and works with councillors on training where necessary. For enquiries on the council’s policy, contact Wyndham corporate affairs manager Emily Keogh on 9742 0731.

Misuse of information case prosecuted

Councillors are often privy to confidential or sensitive information that is important to the business of the municipality.

Following a recent investigation into the improper use of information, former Murrindindi Shire councillor Chris Healy was convicted on five charges of misuse of position.

On five separate occasions, Mr Healy attempted to gain an advantage by making improper use of information, acquired while a councillor, regarding Murrindindi Shire’s proposed rating strategy.

Magistrate John Murphy handed down his decision on 10 October at Shepparton Magistrates Court, convicting Mr Healy on all five charges and ordering him to pay a $10,000 fine and $20,000 towards prosecution legal costs.

Magistrate Murphy said there are “very high standards set by the community for elected officials, in this case council, and such offences undermine the duties of councillors”.

Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf said: "It is important that any person who holds or has held the office of councillor not misuse information they are privy to for personal gain. This finding supports the integrity expectations for the office of councillor."

Why are governance schedules important?

The Inspectorate has recently completed governance examinations of two regional councils. While providing individual feedback to those councils, a consistent theme emerged relating to the schedule of governance requirements under the legislation. Many councils maintain governance schedules as reminders of key dates throughout the year such as interest return deadlines, mayoral election periods and other relevant legislative requirements.

The two councils examined were not able to demonstrate a documented governance schedule and both councils relied on a single staff member for key governance requirements. Relying on one staff member to hold information can be a possible 'single point of failure’ as it creates risk for the organisation, particularly when unplanned absences arise.


It is recommended that a whole of organisation governance schedule be developed and implemented that clearly outlines all legislative requirements and designated roles and responsibilities.

The Inspectorate has seen several examples of best practice in councils developing and implementing governance schedules, including recent work by Hobsons Bay Council to improve the effectiveness of their schedule.

Hobsons Bay governance and local laws manager Dianne Eyckens said their governance checklist was regularly updated with key governance dates and shared across relevant areas of the organisation to ensure compliance. For more information, contact Dianne Eyckens on 9932 1000.

Out and about

David Wolf recently spoke about the Inspectorate’s work with the management group at Darebin Council (presenters and Darebin CEO Sue Wilkinson pictured above). He also visited Mildura Council and presented to a mayors group at the VLGA and a council CEOs dinner hosted by Maddocks Lawyers.

Next month, David will join speakers from IBAC, Victorian Ombudsman and Ballarat Health Services for the regional Corruption Prevention and Integrity Insights forum in Ballarat on 15 November.

Public sector employees can register here for the event.


What we can investigate

The Local Government Inspectorate accepts complaints related to breaches of the Local Government Act 1989.

This may include issues such as:

• misuse of position (section 76D of the Act) by a councillor

• conflict of interest (section 77A - 80) by a councillor or senior council employee

• disclosure of confidential information (section 77)

• nomination of a person not qualified to be a council election candidate (section 52).

The Inspectorate often receives enquiries and complaints relating to matters that fall outside our jurisdiction. Inspectorate staff can offer advice, where possible, on the best avenue for making complaints.


What we can't investigate

The Inspectorate is unable to accept or take action over issues such as:

• Planning, building and permit disputes

• Council services such as bin collection, or issues such as noise complaints

• Infringements, including parking fines

• Performance of council staff, unless related to offences under the Act

• Council decisions, unless allegations of a conflict of interest

• Rates charges.

This flowchart will tell you the steps you can take to make your complaint and whether your complaint should be directed to your local council or another integrity agency such as IBAC or the Victorian Ombudsman.

What's on
Events and reminders
Thursday 15 November 2018

Corruption Prevention and Integrity Insights Fourm, Ballarat

Saturday 27 October - Friday 30 November 2018

Mayoral elections

Saturday 24 November 2018

State Government general elections

Monday 31 December 2018

Ordinary returns to be lodged with CEO on this date or within 40 days

Monday 24 December 2018 - Tuesday 2 January 2019

Inspectorate office closed

Questions or comments on this newsletter or our website?

Please complete our survey at (please note: this form is only for feedback on the newsletter or website - we cannot accept complaints about local councils on this survey).

Should you wish to submit a complaint, click here.

For more about our work, visit or follow our Twitter account @CMI_Vic.


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Local Government Inspectorate · PO Box 4912 · Melbourne, Vic 3001 · Australia