City of Ballarat councillors have been forced to relinquish their power to the city's chief executive officer due to a law that requires decisions to be made in person.
At an emergency council meeting on Monday afternoon, City of Ballarat chief executive officer Justine Linley was granted extended financial powers if councillors are unable to meet in person, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The meeting, effectively handing Ms Linley a vast increase in power of the council, took about 40 minutes.
Ms Linley now has the power to make financial decisions up to $5 million without first taking the funding decision to a formal council meeting.
You can watch the replay of the live stream of the meeting here.
The vote to approve the powers passed unanimously at the meeting, although there was discontent with the situation among most councillors.
Many councillors including Cr Mark Harris bemoaned the inadequacy of the Local Government Act to deal with the constantly changing situation of the virus and the technology that could be used to overcome it.
"I am deeply disappointed... I really dislike this a lot," Cr Harris said.
"This is administratively simple, in this day and age we should have provisions put in (to work remotely). This is nonsense, the state government has to do better because this leaves us in a not great state, it's going to be a hard six months.
"I wholeheartedly support the motion... but the state government has let us down here."
Cr Harris also argued the state government's local government ministry had been poor in supporting councils and ensuring they could adapt to the emergency situation while remaining in full control.
Councilor Daniel Moloney spoke passionately about why he believed the reason he and his fellow councillors were forced to give up their powers as "archaic".
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"No one knows right now whether this was effectively our last meeting as council before we go into a caretaker position in September ahead of the council elections," he said after the meeting.
"It'd be devastating if one of our last acts as council officers was to hand over our power to set budgets to the CEO.
"The biggest issue is the archaic provisions in the Local Government Act that require you to be physically present to make decisions, meaning you can't have an online meeting.
"If we reach a point where the next council meeting on April 1 can't go ahead, which looks likely, then we have a situation where decision-making at a council level will effectively stop."
Cr Moloney added while the state government has for urgent issues to attend to, he believes the Local Government Act needs to be amended swiftly.
"I'm staggered this hasn't been updated at state government level," he said.
"While I appreciate that the state government has much more pressing and urgent issues to deal with currently, eventually local government will be required to help deliver essential services and will be playing a major role in Ballarat's eventual recovery."
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