'What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours,' to quote the late, great Dinah Washington.
This article was originally to be the second part of a series of interviews considering the future of the City of Ballarat and the state's 79 local councils overall, in light of the Victorian Ombudsman's report Investigation of alleged improper conduct by Executive Officers at Ballarat City Council.
The Courier had approached both LG Pro, the local government professionals body, and the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), to comment on the possible wider outcomes for the state's councils of the ombudsman's findings.
This request seemed innocuous enough; the article was following one previously published about the future of appointments and tenders generally. The Victorian Local Government Association (VLGA) had given a long and detailed response, as did an expert in local government, Federation University honorary fellow Christopher Meddows-Taylor.
The Courier also approached the long-established law firm Maddocks, which specialises in advising governments, their bodies and agencies and represents LG Pro, for this article.
After an initial brief interview with LG Pro president Liana Thompson, essentially clarifying that former City of Ballarat CEO Justine Linley had resigned from the LG Pro board in early December 2019, the body did not return calls from The Courier.
In response to questions from The Courier, after two days the MAV stated it also had no comment on the matter.
In response to calls from The Courier, Maddocks partner and specialist in governance, planning and enforcement issues John Rantino said he was unable to speak as the firm had since been retained as counsel by the City of Ballarat - a response which signals there is something much bigger afoot within the chambers of Town Hall.
It seems the level of scrutiny applied by the Ombudsman has set caution as the byword. Yet there is much to report, and serious questions about diligence remain unanswered.
Things are moving very quickly within the governance of the city. Factions - for this is a factional battle - are shoring up support; employee and director positions within council's management are being removed or changed.
The current elected councillors, facing a ballot in October, are nervous about what will happen next and simultaneously desperate to be seen to be doing something, anything, about what happened on their watch.
We're now left with no CEO, a completely and deeply fractured, perhaps non-existent directorship, a self-righteous and inept council and a part-time mayor.Council employee
Former staff and councillors are speaking of the years of poor governance leading to the current crisis, of how over a decade of nepotism and 'jobs for mates' has led to a situation where oversight of what was taking place was neglected, tolerated and encouraged to such a point that 'what's best for Ballarat' was all too often confused or identified with 'what's best for us is best for Ballarat.'
The employment of Justine Linley was an attempt to shift that entrenched culture, to bring diversity and fresh ideas into the council's management. It was resisted in many quarters from the outset: she was 'too progressive'; 'too close to the state government'; too close to certain councillors'; 'too determined to make changes'; 'not close enough to the business community.'
She was, as well, that thing which Ballarat finds so hard to deal with: an outsider.
She was not part of the privileged cycle which sees the same faces turning up on boards and and in executive management of the city time and time again: the revolving appointments of the City of Ballarat, Ballarat Health Services, Central Highlands Water, Sovereign Hill, Her Majesty's, Commerce Ballarat. She was not part of the club.
In all this, the council's employees have kept working, despite the COVID-19 crisis and accusations directors attempted to use aspects of the city's response to restructure the workforce and weaken union influence. Staff in planning, in the depot, compliance, parking, arts and community - across the board - continued to show up and work from home to keep the city running.
So what is to happen next? The vexed question of appointments remains a major concern.
One recent council employee, who like many did not want to be identified fearing it will affect their future employment, told The Courier it was unthinkable recent staff appointments made by Justine Linley and Terry Demeo would or should not be revisited in light of the report.
"How is it that a current council employee can apply for another role within council without it now being a clear case of conflict of interest under the standard set by this termination of the CEO?" they said.
"We're now left with no CEO, a completely and deeply fractured, perhaps non-existent directorship, a self-righteous and inept council and a part-time mayor."
Current acting CEO Neville Ivey confirmed he will not seek the position of interim CEO after it was revealed the ACCC stated it had fined him $50,000 in the 1990s over a price-fixing matter.
"I have always been completely open and transparent with regards to this ACCC matter from some 25 years ago," Mr Ivey said in a statement to The Courier.
Nevertheless questions remain about Ivey's and another appointment made following the termination of director of infrastructure and planning Terry Demeo.
Justine Linley appointed executive manager of property and facilities management Darren Sadler to the position of acting infrastructure and environment director before she went on leave, the City of Ballarat confirmed today.
The acting position was to commence once Terry Demeo began his leave.
These appointments, and the ongoing restructures and jockeying for control within the City of Ballarat's executive management, will continue to be the subject of scrutiny.
There are tantalising hints within the Ombudsman's report there is more to come: 'evidence provided that is not part of this investigation'. The Courier is also aware new referrals to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) were made from several sources regarding matters at the City of Ballarat. What a difference a day makes, indeed.