Ballarat City Council’s chief has vowed to ensure a administrative blunder which threatened to dismantle an entire sitting council will never occur again under her watch.
Justine Linley said to sack all nine Ballarat councillors over an administrative error would have defied “natural justice”.
Councillors faced disqualification after they failed to sign a new code of conduct document within a one month statutory deadline.
The crisis came to a head late Monday afternoon as it emerged the Local Government Inspectorate recommended all councillors be disqualified as of September 1.
However, councillors were thrown a last minute lifeline when Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced he would take action to alter the Local Government Act to save the jobs of more than 100 councillors across the state embroiled in the saga.
“This whole issue has been laying heavily on my shoulders,” Ms Linley said. “But the community can be assured any future legislation will be scrutinised within an inch of its life. This will never happen again.”
The defiant chief said an internal review into the administrative error which wreaked havoc in the organisation was ongoing.
She vowed to ensure stringent protocols and systems were implemented to establish accountability at every level of the organisation.
Ms Linley also stressed the importance of the revised code of conduct which discouraged councillors from making personal attacks on each other and sets out processes for dealing with bad behaviour.
“In terms of governance (the code of conduct) is particularly important because it delves into not only how we deal with each other respectfully but also how we build trust with the community,” she said.
“They need to have confidence the people making decisions about their life and their money.”
Mayor Des Hudson expressed his relief councillors would be able to finish their term with an election looming in October.
“We are extremely pleased the premier kept to his word and found a commonsense resolution over what was an administrative blunder,” Cr Hudson said.
“While we take full responsibility for the error the decision ensures local government will still be preserved.”
However, Ballarat lawyer Dianne Hadden accused the state government of making a “complete mockery” of the Local Government Inspectorate findings.
Ms Hadden said the legal technicalities surrounding amending the Local Government Act would take longer to implement than the three sitting days proposed by the state government.
However, she said councillors weren’t trained legal professionals and relied on the advice senior officers to guide them.
Acting local government minister Richard Wynne said the state government’s ultimate consideration was ensuring residents don't have to pay for the administrative mistakes made by their local councils.
But Cr Samantha McIntosh pointed the blame at the state government.
She said it had been a “heart-wrenching” few weeks for councillors.
She maintained councillors were not adequately informed about the deadline to sign the code.
“The sheer number of councils caught up in this mess shows that it goes beyond a local government issue and into the system running at a state level,” she said.