Victoria’s local council watchdog says communities have the right to expect the highest levels of integrity from their council’s senior administration.
Seasoned chief municipal inspector David Wolf’s comments come after former Central Goldfields Shire Council chief executive Mark Johnston was convicted and forced to fork out $36,000 over the misuse of a corporate credit card and obtaining financial advantage by deception.
Mr Johnston pleaded guilty to all five charges before the Maryborough Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, which related to 112 transactions charged to a council credit card from August 13, 2009 to September 13, 2013.
“In this case, the former CEO deceived the community to his own advantage and the courts have applied an appropriate penalty,” Mr Wolf said.
“This closes out a difficult chapter for Central Goldfields Shire Council and the council can continue to rebuild trust with the community.”
The total sum Mr Johnston dishonestly obtained during those four years was $9415.71.
Magistrate Megan Aumair took into account Mr Johnston’s service to the community in her sentencing, as well as the remorse indicated by his guilty plea.
She said the court proceedings had painted a ‘clear picture of a hard-working family man, a dedicated member of the local community with a strong sense of social justice’ who was ‘determined to do the best for Maryborough’ both in his paid and voluntary roles.
His commitment to those organisations and the community cannot be questionedMagistrate Megan Aumair
Ms Aumair also took into account the need to denounce the former chief executive’s actions.
She said Mr Johnston committed a multitude of deceptions over a significant period of time, breaching the trust of the community he served – “one of the most disadvantaged communities in the state”.
While she said some of the matters were more blatantly deceptive than others, they were still deceptive.
Most of the offending related to buying meals.
Some of the meals were for family members.
When challenged on his use of the council credit card, the court heard Mr Johnston believed himself justified because he would meet business people and discuss council business during those meals.
He also said his family members were helping him ‘sell’ the shire by demonstrating its family-oriented nature.
Mr Johnston claimed some of the expenses were related to meetings, of which investigators said there was no evidence.
In addition to demonstrating remorse, the magistrate said the guilty pleas meant accepting the conduct was dishonest.
Ms Aumair said Mr Johnston was formerly well regarded within the community and well paid in his role.
She said Mr Johnston’s reputation was ruined and his future employment prospects were uncertain as a result of the offending.
In addition to the convictions and fine of $26,000, Mr Johnston was ordered to pay $10,000 in prosecution legal costs.
Mr Johnston became the council’s chief executive in April 1995.
He was suspended in July 2017, after the LGI laid charges, and resigned the following month.
By that stage, the state government had sacked the elected council in relation to financial and governance failures.
- Bendigo Advertiser