There was heated discussion among councillors on Wednesday about seeing the detail of an independent auditor's report, which has now been referred to the local government watchdog.
Several councillors urged the interim chief executive officer Janet Dore to release the full version. A summary included in the recent agenda was highly critical of the scope and planning for the Gatekeepers Cottage and Fernery projects as well as purchasing procedures.
However, Crs Grant Tillett and Jim Rinaldi vociferously argued against the immediate release of full details.
Cr Mark Harris had requested a public report last month, asking for a timeline and narrative of funds committed to the Cottage. All councillors approved the request for a report unanimously, agreeing for it to come back before council.
At the time, Ms Dore said an internal audit was already under way. On Wednesday, she said the audit, which was carried out by independent company Pitcher Partners, was separate to Cr Harris's request. She said the summary was in her chief executive report on Wednesday for public interest and transparency reasons.
Cr Harris suggested that without more information the public could perceive it as a secret report. He asked if Ms Dore had been advised whether the full details of the report should be kept private.
Ms Dore replied: "There has not been a direction that I should not publish the report. It is my judgement because of staff and the councillor that is involved that certainly where it relates to internal matters within the organisation, that should not be published."
She said she was seeking guidance from the inspectorate about improvements, and also about the seriousness of what was contained within the report.
"I suspect that what's going to eventuate is that it is similar to the Ombudsman's report in that it's a low level of transgression of process and inadequate approvals and business case preparation."
"I guess we'll never know in this term of council," said Cr Harris.
Cr Des Hudson said the same term "low level" had been used in the Ombudsman's report and had cost the former CEO her job.
I suspect that what's going to eventuate is that it is similar to the Ombudsman's report in that it's a low level of transgression of process and inadequate approvals and business case preparationJanet Dore
"The concern at not being privy to the report and its contents is the inference we could all be construed to be part of the culture, behaviour and actions," he said.
"This cloud will certainly hang over the final weeks of council. I understand you are caught between a rock and a hard place, but there is also a view from the elected group that are seeking that clarity."
Ms Dore said she could not help the timing, reiterating she would be putting the report in front of the next council."
Cr Amy Johnson added her voice to those asking for it more promptly: "I would have thought this is exactly the right time to be released, so residents have access to information in order to make an informed decision."
Ms Dore replied: "The other view is that material like this could be used in election campaigns in quite a damaging way."
Cr Harris followed up with another question: "Was someone ever going to tell me I wasn't going to get the report back? A heads-up might have been handy."
"I apologise Cr Harris," said Ms Dore. "It would have been polite to let you know. But the whole thing started in August, we're only in September so it's moved pretty fast anyway."
Cr Tillett, meanwhile, was highly critical of the push to make the report public straight away. "I think the discussion tonight has been verging on improper. We have a document before us that alludes to a report. At the best the information we are talking about is hearsay."
"Until it goes to an independent reviewer, it is completely inappropriate for us to be speculating on what has happened or what hasn't happened."
Cr Jim Rinaldi agreed: "Unfortunately there have been some issues discussed tonight without foundation, without proper processes, equal justice for all."
"When the proper process has been completed, then I will make the judgement."
We're not trusted to have access to this secret report and the public aren't trusted to have access to it because the misconduct that was uncovered may impact on the way they will voteCr Amy Johnson
Cr Johnson remained unconvinced: "I do appreciate the CEO doing this work, but I feel like we are very much being left in the dark."
"We're not trusted to have access to this secret report and the public aren't trusted to have access to it because the misconduct that was uncovered may impact on the way they will vote. You can understand how a lot of people will be really frustrated when they hear that."
The independent auditor's report is separate to an ongoing workplace culture review, which Ms Dore said on Wednesday had uncovered bullying, sexual harassment, assault and improper procurement. The latter process is being conducted by Susan Halliday, an external consultant who reviewed the culture at the City of Greater Geelong a few years ago.
Ms Dore told councillors there was no way they could have known about the issues it had identified.
- Read The Courier's original report on the Gatekeepers Cottage here.
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