Shire updates best practice

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Shire chief executive Gary Evershed
Camera IconShire chief executive Gary Evershed

An audit into the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River has led to recommendations to improve standards around processes such as commission of tenders, receipt of gifts, declarations of interest, and employee use of corporate credit cards.

Although seven recommendations were made to the Shire by the Department of Local Government at the conclusion of a recent integrity review, the Shire did not breach any laws, and recommendations included reviewing and updating best-practice standards.

Shire chief executive Gary Evershed, who finished work this week, said most of the issues found by the review were already being addressed.

“We were found to have had good systems in place and our staff code of conduct was rated as industry best practice,” Mr Evershed said.

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“Virtually all of the items raised were issues that we were already aware of and we have been working hard to improve on with our systems and processes.

“We are an open and transparent learning organisation and welcome feedback on improving our systems and processes.

“It’s critically important for elected members also to work with staff to minimise unnecessary conflicts and poor governance processes which are unnecessary time-consuming distractions for key staff in achieving the best results for the ratepayers.”

Last week’s meeting also heard comments from Cr Mike Smart, who said he triggered the review.

Cr Smart was recently censured for several minor breaches, but said up to 10 complaints were lodged against him to the Local Government Standards Panel, and the outcome of several were still pending.

“I am pleased to see that my actions have been vindicated in that the department has high-lighted areas of concern,” Cr Smart said.

“Of major concern to me is that within six weeks of lodging this complaint, I had 10 minor breach complaints lodged against me.

“Of these, I have been found guilty of four, three related to the censure motion that I have responded to in the (Times) recently.

“The total cost to the Shire to lodge these complaints and advertise the censure motion is about $8000.”

Challenges noted in the report around declaring financial and proximic conflicts of interest, how to handle corporate gifts such as event tickets where the Shire is a sponsor, procuring services for minor projects costing less than $20,000, and employee control of corporate credit cards have all featured in council debate during the past two years.

The report noted confusion around how to handle tickets to events such as CinefestOz where the Shire was also a sponsor.

“The Shire advised that it had at all times attempted to comply with the gift requirements in the Act and expressed a view that the current multiple gift requirements are complex, confusing and open to misinterpretation,” the report said.

The audit also found “due to what is considered ineffective practices that tend to leave the Shire exposed to risks associated with efficient control over the use of credit cards, the Shire’s procedures in relation to corporate credit card use do not follow best practice or proper auditing standards as provided for in the department’s guidelines”.

The audit found issues with the Shire’s tender register which “does not allow easy or convenient access ... for the purposes of public inspection”.

“The audit found that some purchases made by the Shire were either not compliant with the Shire’s Purchasing Policy relating to obtaining quotes or the Shire’s record-keeping practices required improvement,” it said.

The report listed a number of items involving sign-making, heavy equipment hire, and electrical services not covered by the necessary three minimum written quotes.

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