December 22nd, 2021Administrator should replace council – petition
A PETITION is circulating asking for the Minister for Local Government to replace Hepburn Shire Council with an administrator.
The move comes after Hepburn Shire Council decided, at its November 23 meeting, to scrap the Hepburn Hub at The Rex project, which could see a loss of up to $6 million of ratepayer monies.
The council bought the Vincent Street, Daylesford former theatre in 2016 for $6 million. It has since spent $3 million on the building which was to house a cinema, staff offices, library, social enterprise cafe and public toilets, with another $6 million needed to complete the project.
Council officers had recommended the council continue with the project however councillors voted four/three against that recommendation. Those against were Cr Lesley Hewitt, Cr Don Henderson, Cr Juliet Simpson and Cr Brian Hood. Councillors in favour were Cr Jen Bray, Cr Tessa Halliday and Mayor Cr Tim Drylie.
The petition at change.org, created by Daylesford Theatre committee president Gina Lyons, says The Rex project has been mismanaged from the outset and the Hepburn Shire Council needed to be held responsible and accountable.
“The Rex debacle between 2016–2018 has been well documented and has been the subject of investigation by the Local Government Inspectorate. We await their findings with great anticipation.
“In voting to discontinue the Hepburn Hub at The Rex project and to sell the building without any community consultation, councillors have treated our community with contempt. They have failed to follow their own Community Engagement Policy.”
The petition continues on, saying that council and library staff work in substandard conditions in non-compliant buildings. It says the community cinema, built up over more than four years into a community asset is now facing closure.
“The appalling mismanagement of the Hepburn Hub at The Rex project and capricious decision-making is in full view, the impact of which is massive for council staff and the community. We believe the council is not acting in the community’s interests and should be replaced by an administrator.”
Ms Lyons told The Local the petition would be open for signatures until the end of January and she hopes to gain 1000 signatures by that time. The petition had more than 600 signatures at the time of going to print.
However, Cr Jen Bray has put forward a Notice of Motion that will go before councillors at a meeting this Tuesday, December 21, which could slow down or even stop the sale of The Rex.
Cr Bray will ask councillors to “defer action on the sale of The Rex building until officers prepare a comprehensive report on current council-owned facilities and other possible properties, and provide options to council that consider staff accommodation needs, and access to community facilities”.
She is also asking for a community, staff and stakeholder engagement process to be held and for council officers to prepare the reports and conduct community input to council as soon as practicable in 2022. The council would then make a final decision on the Hepburn Hub project at a future council meeting in 2022.
Ms Lyons told The Local that Cr Bray’s motion was “a good faith attempt to try and stop the sale process until additional information is gathered to input to a decision on the future of The Rex”.
“What she is proposing is that a lot of work be done next year to come up with a list of alternate properties and options for dispersing council staff across the shire. This information would then be used to inform a community engagement process and then council would make a decision on the Hepburn Hub project in 2022. That work is likely to take all of next year.
“A lot of time and money will be wasted to potentially end up where we are now, that is, The Rex, or at some other site.
“In the latter case, detailed design will then be required (along with) the planning process, tendering and construction. It will take years to complete. It is likely that the project will not be finished in the term of this council.
“(And) building costs are increasing, so it is highly likely that the total cost of whatever solution the council comes up with will be around the same as if they had awarded a contract at the November council meeting.”
Mayor Cr Tim Drylie told The Local the decision had been made in accordance with all relevant governance rules and the Local Government Act.
Cr Drylie, who was one of three councillors who voted in favour of continuing the project at The Rex, said he had a post graduate degree in cinema studies and was a big supporter of the arts but as mayor he supported the council’s decision.
He said there had been discussions at a council level on the ability to reverse the decision and Cr Bray’s motion would look at some of the options available.
The purchase of The Rex building and other matters relating to the project remain under investigation by the Local Government Inspectorate with a report pending.
Meanwhile, two weeks ago, the council received reports of unauthorised access and activity inside The Rex. A query by The Local was responded to with a statement saying the damage included graffiti, smashed glass on external doors, smashed glass in the lightwells in the carpark, and a number of fires lit inside the building. The value of the damage was not yet known.
Petition link: https://chng.it/GrjFBJMNGP
Words & images: Donna Kelly