They've branded it “embarrassing, scathing and failure after failure.”
Councillors have roundly condemned the tendering process for Goulburn’s multifunction centre and called for decisive action on the back of a damning report.
Led by Deputy Mayor Bob Kirk at Tuesday night’s meeting, they endorsed six actions. They include expressing their “disappointment with the identified shortcomings.” in the report.
Cr Robin Saville argued it should be “grave disappointment.”
Cr Kirk told the meeting it was incumbent on Council to act.
“The integrity of Council is drawn into question by this report and unfortunately that involves everyone,” he said.
The Deputy Mayor told the meeting he’d spent several sleepless nights pondering the next step.
He was speaking after the Division of Local Government released its investigation two weeks ago, revealing multiple breaches of tendering guidelines for the multifunction centre.
It followed a local tenderer’s complaint about the process, which ultimately chose Bathurst based Hines Constructions to build the $5.7 million complex at the Recreation Area. Hines is not accused of any wrongdoing.
Cr Kirk also won unanimous support for the following:
• The DLG report and an accompanying letter from Local Government chief executive, Ross Woodward be incorporated into the minutes.
• That the general manager implements the report’s recommended actions within six months.
• That the general manager’s performance in implementing the recommendations be monitored by his annual performance review.
• That a confidential report on actions taken in respect of staff involved in the tender process be provided to councillors and;
• That a closed briefing session be held for councillors on the report.
His motion came in response to general manager Chris Berry’s report to the meeting, recommending only that the Division’s actions be implemented in six months and his performance be measured.
For most, it didn’t go far enough. Cr Kirk believed the Division’s report should have been included in Tuesday night’s documents as the Department had expressly stated it should be made public.
For some councillors and the community, this was the first time problems with the tendering process had come to light, Cr Kirk said. He detailed its many findings, including multiple breaches.
“The report is scathing and the principal finding is a fundamental misunderstanding of tendering guidelines,” Cr Kirk told the meeting.
He stressed that the Division had stopped short of a full investigation but the very fact this was mentioned highlighted the seriousness of the findings.
Cr Kirk did not see the Division’s report as the end of the matter. Significantly, three new councillors had no role in choosing the tenderer.
For this reason the Deputy Mayor called for a closed briefing session for councillors only, given it would involve confidential tender details and staff matters. The latter is grounds for closed discussion under the Local Government Act.
“I think all councillors have a right and responsibility to be fully informed of what happened between May 15, 2012 (when the tender was awarded) and now, and to be privy to all the information the mayor and I have been,” he said.
“…It will give them a chance to assess the implications…and from that, further recommendations could come. As I said, I don’t believe the report is the end of the matter.”
The briefing session will be held next Monday afternoon.
Cr Kettle and Cr Kirk sat in on meetings with the complainant after he lodged his protest in June, 2012.
Several councillors were uncomfortable with a closed briefing session, saying the community would perceive it as “sweeping it under the carpet.”
Cr Robin Saville said the community was very concerned. He had prepared a similar motion to Cr Kirk’s before the meeting.
“It is not just one breach but failure after failure,” he told the meeting.
“It’s very serious stuff…I’m not sure what we’d get out of a private briefing. It may create the perception this is being shoved behind closed doors.”
He wanted an assurance that an open report would come to Council for debate in the public sphere.
Cr Kirk replied there was no intent to “smooth the waters” and said Council had little choice but to hold a closed session given confidential tender details. In addition, they had a responsibility to review Council’s performance in accordance with the Local Government Act, and this allowed the opportunity to do so.
Cr Andrew Banfield told the meeting he too had felt the community’s “angst.” He appreciated perceptions the matter could be “brushed aside” but supported a confidential briefing.
“It’s too big an issue to gloss over,” he said.
“…I hope people in the community have enough faith in me to follow through on this. People need to be accountable… It won’t be brushed under the carpet, that’s for sure.”
Other councillors were also vocal in their condemnation
As a result of the report, the Division has recommended wholesale changes, including training on process and guidelines for all staff involved in tenders, subscription to a local government ‘tendering toolbox’ and preparation of tendering guidelines to assist all staff.
Mr Berry has also initiated several actions, including abandonment of design and construct tenders. After the meeting, Cr Kirk said he was pleased with the input of his colleagues.
Responses by Cr Margaret O’Neill and Geoff Peterson and a related Editorial in the print edition of today’s Goulburn Post.