Council CEO gains emergency powers

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Greater Dandenong Council has delegated emergency powers to chief executive John Bennie in case not enough councillors can attend council meetings during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a temporary measure, the council will delegate decisions involving up to $2 million to the CEO or person acting in his position if a council meeting cannot be held.

The previous limit was up to $200,000. Over that amount, decisions could only be made by council resolution.

The delegation extends until 30 September.

As of 14 April, the councillors voted in the powers on the basis that they may not raise a quorum of six out of 11 councillors at meetings during the pandemic.

At one stage at its 14 April meeting, with three councillors away and two others out of the chamber, Cr Tim Dark was requested not to leave the room so the meeting could still run.

“Council officers consider this temporary financial delegation is a crucial undertaking to ensure the ability to make decisions in relation to goods and services is not threatened or hampered during the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions,” a council report stated.

Cr Angela Long said the delegated powers were necessary to ensure the council could keep running during “uncertain” times.

Cr Sean O’Reilly said a “back-up plan” was necessary if a councillor was infected by Covid-19, forcing their colleagues into 14-days of self-isolation.

“What happens then? We can’t make decisions, our decision-making powers are suspended.

“It’s therefore common sense during this temporary time that we have a back-up plan.”

In opposition, Cr Maria Sampey pondered why decisions on $2 million contracts couldn’t wait 14 days for elected councillors’ endorsement.

“This is scaremongering as far as I’m concerned.

“Up to $2 million is a lot of money. I’ll like to make that decision on behalf of my ratepayers and not delegate it to anyone else.”

Cr Tim Dark said he opposed delegating the councillor’s role as “custodian of the ratepayer’s dollar”.

On 15 April, Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek announced his intention to legalise virtual council meetings.

The Bill would be introduced at a special sitting of State Parliament on Thursday 23 April.

The meetings would remain “open to the public” through live-streaming, Mr Somyurek tweeted.