Two reports due to be examined at Wednesday night's council meeting will make painful reading for some councillors, current and former staff and will anger ratepayers, says interim City of Ballarat CEO Janet Dore.
But she says it will be the catalyst for reckoning and change within a council which had, at a senior level, developed a sclerotic attitude to ratepayer opinion and in some cases set vested and personal interest above that of the public.
Ms Dore will reference the report by Susan Halliday AM into councillor and staff behaviour, and release a Pitcher Partners report into procurement failures regarding the Gatekeeper's Cottage, the Botanic Garden Fernery Redevelopment project, chandelier purchase and other transactions made in the previous term of council, during the meeting.
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The Pitcher Partners' report in particular will reopen some barely-sutured wounds, with revelations that 'mayoral requests' for flowers totalling $17,000 were made between 2017 and 2019, questioning whether those purchases were in proper alignment with existing council policy and made through the correct channels.
In an interview with The Courier, Ms Dore said it was "distressing to read the (Halliday) report." "I don't think any ordinary person would feel any other way," Ms Dore said.
"Ultimately, it's the leaders in an organisation who are accountable for proper behaviour. And as soon as there's a chink in the armor, it unravels and people get to know they do certain things without reprisal or accountability."
Ultimately, it's the leaders in an organisation who are accountable for proper behaviour. And as soon as there's a chink in the armor, it unravels and people get to know they do certain things without reprisal or accountability.Interim City of Ballarat CEO Janet Dore
The report, which came about as a result of a Victorian Ombudsman investigation into the City of Ballarat, examines concerns about leadership and culture, and is the product of 60 interviews with staff and at least two with councillors, as well as members of the public.
There was such a strong response from council staff, Ms Dore developed a confidential online survey to continue receiving information, garnering 165 reponses.
Ms Dore says the Halliday report into staff and councillor behaviour will be released on Friday, after it has gone in front of councillors and staff. She says while the matters in the report are public, it is not properly a matter for open comment.
"My occupational health and safety duty is paramount," Ms Dore says, referring to the impact the report may have on morale for individuals and the organisation.
"There's been a difficulty with how to manage the information flow, especially with councillors. It's a difficult one; this is not a matter that should rightly be for public debate. But it is appropriate that the public know what the respondents to this survey have experienced at work. And the most important thing is that their experiences are individual. Many of them are very similar."
The Pitcher Partners report, which forms part of the council agenda for Wednesday evening, has been endorsed by the Local Government Inspectorate. The report acknowledges its own limitations, saying it lacks ability to assess and verify actual spends and outcomes - but what it reveals is a council procurement and approval process so flawed as to almost encourage behaviour which skirted legality.
With regard to The Gatekeeper's Cottage project, Pitcher Partners found record keeping was inadequate, no full business case was produced, the full extent of possible costs were never analysed, cost variations were not approved, the building's acceptance by council never received explicit approval and was undocumented, and the original $300,000 budget, which blew out to over $500,000, was also undocumented.
The Fernery project, which was budgeted at $1.4m in 2015/16 and had $457,750 worth of variations approved, had no relevant business case or reasoning, final scope or budget provided to support its approval. It is over budget, and budget variations made by the Contracts Approval Special Committee of council may not have been legal.
There are also serious questions about the purchase of flowers and other items for the mayoral office between 2017 and 2019, with invoices totalling approximately $17,000 for services being sent directly to the mayor at the time, Samantha McIntosh.
The report says the florist was known to the mayor, and undertook 'additional work' for council which was invoiced 'without documented request or pre-approval'.
Ms Dore is adamant that lessons must be learnt from the current revelations, saying the procurement process has now been revised.
"There are good processes being put in place that will help guide people towards the right way of doing things," she says.
"I'm not interested in blame. I am interested in learning. We are in an era of public accountability and transparency, and that's what this is about."
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OMBUDSMAN COVERAGE: TIMELINE
May 14: The report is tabled
- City of Ballarat ombudsman report: 'jobs for mates' allegations regarding Ballarat Council executives
- Ombudsman report into Ballarat council: councillors express disappointment
- Ombudsman report into City of Ballarat: Councillors told to scrutinise CEO behaviour
- City of Ballarat ombudsman report: The intriguing finer details
- Ombudsman's report into Ballarat Council: What next for council officers?
- ANALYSIS: Troubled waters at town hall
May 18, 2020: Resignation and sacking
May 19: Mayor Ben Taylor talks about Justine Linley's sacking
May 21: Price fixing links of acting CEO confirmed
May 24: Fresh doubts published over recruitment processes/ Fall out continues over decision to terminate Justine Linley's CEO contract
May 28: Push for new interim CEO
June 10: New CEO announced
June 12: First day of new interim CEO, Janet Dore
June 18: Directors jobs to be re-advertised
June 29: Director of business services resigns
July 7: Director Cameron Cahill resigns
July 23: Changes to procurement
July 28: Another director goes
August 2: 'More than half way there'
August 11: Last director resigns
August 27:CEO recruitment begins
September 2: New appointments
September 10: New director of infrastructure and environment
September 11:Final director roles filled
September 17:Cultural review
January 6, 2021: Analysis
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