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Council ignores the people: Ruffell

For Mayor Lisa Ruffell says on GovHub:

The Council position that office consolidation and co-location into a GovHub came out of the 2013 Independent Review is baloney. The 2013 Independent Review Final Report, Recommendation 11, stated, strongly advocate and plan for the consolidation of City of Greater Bendigo offices. Note the recommendation was about council office consolidation, not co-location into a GovHub, and definitely not about selling irreplaceable Council land and facilities. I say this as a Councillor 2008 to 2016, Mayor 2012 to 2013 and a member of the Independent Review Committee at that time, and as a supporter of the entire Review. It would be dishonest of anyone in Council to claim that it engaged with the community about office co-location through the six-month Independent Review processes from January through to June 2013. It did not! Nor did Council engage and consult with the community about office consolidation after the Final Review Report was delivered in early July 2013 through to this day in 2020. Office consolidation was never presented in any one of the 129 written community or officer submissions, nor was it in any of the 24 external stakeholder submissions or in any of the 57 verbal submissions to the Independent Review Committee hearings. My understanding is the whole matter of new Council offices was officer led. The CEO and the then director of City Futures vigorously pursued office consolidation with the Review’s consultants Aurecon, and that is how it found its way to be a Recommendation in the Final Report. It may also have been supported by some of the council’s 31 leadership team and 23 other staff who had conversations with the Aurecon team. Shamefully, to this day, and against council policies, both office consolidation and co-location into a GovHub has never been tested in the wider community; there has been no real consultation; not one public meeting has been called. Council has rudely informed the public what its officers demanded, and what it subsequently wants to deliver. The officer report to the 20 February 2019 Council Meeting claimed the Independent Review noted that sharing a new facility with other government agencies would reduce costs. No detail was provided. That same officer report failed to reveal to the public what collateral costs were involved, and neglected to inform that the Independent Review Report said the community must be engaged in the process, and that if consolidation were to be considered then an investment grade business case needed to be presented and publicly tested; Council selectively ignores these matters. It appears between 2013 and 2016, behind closed doors, council officers selectively provided information to councillors that steered them to believe the only option was to sell the Council Chambers and land to the government to construct a GovHub on that land. Yet we were never told what were the other six sites the government considered. Residents must be able to understand the financial commitments and burdens Councillors are placing them in, and that is impossible with all the secrecy. In my eight years on Council the CEO raised the matter of a new Council complex a number of times, and each time it was rejected by Council because the then councillors believed there were more pressing needs and higher priorities, it was too costly, and that such a move was not in the best interests of the residents. I believe that is still the case; I also believe the bulk of the community believes this to be true. The secrecy of Council confirms this belief, as it knows residents would be horrified. There are many other matters of concern that could be raised that are best put before an independent inquiry. It does not matter what political party is in power at the state level, Council must not only be independent, it must be seen to be independent and represent the will of the people. This has not happened. The majority of Councillors are caving into the State Government and political pressure; they seem afraid of public scrutiny. We the public are paying. I recommend Council not proceed with the sale of its Lyttleton Terrace Office complex to the government. Council must call a series of public meetings to put all the options. Let us decide our own future.

* This article first appeared in the Bendigo Monthly April 2020

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