By Brendan Rees
Casey Council’s newly appointed interim administrator Noelene Duff has chaired her first public meeting following the dramatic sacking of councillors.
Ms Duff led a new-look meeting on Tuesday 3 March, which featured a notably different room layout.
A cosier horse shoe seating arrangement was set up for the public gallery who sat just metres away from the council table.
Gone was the high back leather chairs, nuts and lollies on tables, and barriers with retractable belts to keep the public at bay – and interestingly, security guards were also given the night off.
Thirteen members of the public gathered round including ex-Casey councillor Damien Rosario while 13 council officers were also in attendance.
Ms Duff carefully deliberated over each item in the agenda – which lasted just under 25 minutes.
Ms Duff outlined her role and spoke of “one of the important messages” regarding the dismissal of councillors with the State Government’s commitment to rebuild “the confidence of this community” as well as its reputation.
She further noted “there are a number of changes” to “ensure that there is greater inclusiveness and transparency in terms of council decision making”.
Casey Residents and Ratepayers Association secretary Brendan Browne, who was present at the meeting, said it was a more “respectful environment” and “unfortunately a huge improvement on what we had”.
“What we what want eventually is an actual elected council that acts professionally. How long that takes – we don’t know”.
Alan Murphy of Narre Warren South said after the meeting he was concerned about the community not having a voice.
“There’s no democracy if one person makes the decisions,” he said.
“We’re not allowed to ask questions. We’ve got to submit a question – 36 hours before hand so I don’t know what they’re going to discuss.
“There were some people (councillors) there that were honest and weren’t bad apples,” Mr Murphy added.
Another resident, Anne of Narre Warren, said her reason for attending the meeting was to find out if council elections would be held in four years.
“I’ve just found out and unfortunately they can,” she said.
“I hope to God that people will remember in four years what they’ve done”.
Ex-Casey councillor Damien Rosario said he hadn’t known what to expect but wondered what would happen when there was a lengthier agenda.
“When you have 36 items on the list and you explain each one of them, what happens then?” he said.
Mr Rosario wished the council well, saying: “It’s good for the city to carry on the business and continue the growth”.
The meeting comes after the Minister for Local Government, Adem Somyurek, tabled an explosive monitor’s report on Casey Council – which found widespread “governance failures,” conflicts of issues, and a bullying culture following an Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption into alleged corrupt behaviour.
Both houses of State Parliament passed legislation to dismiss the council on 18 February and appointed Ms Duff as interim administrator for a period of 90 days until a panel of three administrators are appointed – making the next eligible election for Casey Council in October 2024.
Former Casey councillors fronted a packed gallery at their final meeting. The wept as they spoke in turn speaking of their achievements – remaining defiant until the end.