Quick Intro: MRI is a network advocacy organisation – we grow and use networks to do our advocacy work. We stand for (a) assuring good governance in Council affairs; (b) advocating for affordable rates and best value municipal services; (c) building capacity for our Monash community.
The Future Liveability of Glen Waverley comes first, or Councillors’ collective opinion of what THEY DECIDE the community should need and have?
The coming acid test is “are Monash Councillors in for the developers or for their community first when it comes to the Glen Waverley square’s development?”….. will good governance prevail for once in this decision making? The truth shall be known in due course….. watch this space develops.
Here we go again… Cr Geoff Lake’s library development agenda, which started in 2012 and had lead to the assets’ sale of the 2 aged care residential facilities (as a funding strategy), and there is talk of more future land sale to further fund this library’s development goal. In 2012, the writings were on the wall (in the public records) that a premeditated decision would be voted prior to the 2016 election.
Will a repeat of the same assets sale decision making tactics reoccur when Council decides the fate of the Glen Waverley central car park square? We do not hope so, as the repeat of such pre-orchestrated and biased decision making would only increase damage to Council’s already poor performance in good governance, not mentioning having election ramifications on Councillors rejecting the residents’ proposal for a John Monash Multi-cultural Square and pressing on on their own collective agenda for supporting and building Cr Lake’s proposed new library.
An interesting event to keep watch, to see how the decision making and compliance to good governance is cleverly engineered to bend the rules…..
Over 90 people attended the draft budget community presentation meeting on the 16 June 2015.
Not surprising the Mayor did not attend, and as usual Cr Lake loves control and chaired the meeting.
In addition to the summary of our submission Presenters’ issues concern:
- Unaffordable rate rise above CPI for pensioners and low income residents/ratepayers
- Community groups advocating for updates to council owned infrastructure amenities that they used. The largest group was the Waverley Gymnastics, who was appealing to Council to allocate $2 mio to update facilities
- The high differential rate imposed on Highvale retirement village residents.
Surprisingly, Cr Lake allows a non-resident/ratepayer to present her case for seeking the $2 million for the Waverley Gymnastics. It appears Council is discretionary or discriminatory and sending mix messages about its compliance to local laws regarding the exclusion of non residents / ratepayers to speak/present during official meetings. That says a lot about the integrity and quality level of good governance exercise in Monash Council.
Wow, we even had some interactive Q&A – amazing? We asked Council what is its priority setting criteria for deciding which community club and assets renewal areas to fund in next year’s budget. The “on the fly” answer from Cr Lake is that the criteria is based on some rankings of one or more strategic direction/s in the Council plan – good bluff/fluff.
Only two Councillors interacted in the Q&A, Cr Lake and Davies, the others said nothing – maybe financial literacy is a barrier?
Anyway, we follow up with a email correspondence to the Councilors forming the budget review committee, or something like that, and see what transpire from it. keep our expectations low so that any response can be a elated experience?
The following response was submitted to Monash Council today :
MRI’s review conclusion of the 2015/16 Budget raises concerns of transparency and accountability.
When Cr Lake said (in the last Council meeting) the sale of aged facilities are put into a Debt Management Reserve, which is now being used to wipe put Council’s $15 mil debt, he is technically correct, but he forgot to say that the future cost savings resulting from the sale has put Monash Council into a healthy financial position for many years to come.
This is evident through two financial indicators:
- Working capital ratios are noted to be increasing above the target threshold of 150%, especially from 2016/17 onwards when rates revenue have been affected by annual rate caps. The above 150% margins represent over-gearing of slack. What is this “slack” is for, is not disclosed in the draft budget.
- Unrestricted cash build-ups for the next 4 years, growing by ~20% even when rates are capped. Over stated unrestricted cash levels are indicating funding for future large capital works, which need to be declared in disclosure of commitments and for audit purposes (LGPRF Version 4, Page 6), hence availing clear and discrete public disclosure. There is no such information, or if it exists, it is definitely not explicitly disclosed.
We also noted that Council’s asset renewal ratio is under 100%, which means Monash is not spending to improve its existing infrastructure which is deteriorating faster than they are being replaced, but is putting money away under over geared working capital and unrestricted cash reserves.
Experienced budget planners know that these financial performance indicators often hide budget manipulation decisions or games. Hence it is not illogical that these indicators can potentially reveal:
- There is another Defined Superannuation Liability shortfall looming with the next 4 years. The question is why is the risk management of this staff superannuation portfolio has to become so discreet and implicit – Cr Lake, an MAV representative, needs to explain what is MAV doing to ensure and disclose improvements to making risk management of LG Defined Superannuation Portfolio more prudent and predictable and guarantee such as significant shortfalls are prevented and mitigated in the future.
- Risk provision for accumulating and growing capital costs of asset renewal, because Council is still struggling to renew its infrastructure assets which are deteriorating faster than they are being replaced. The question is why is Cr Lake had initiated and is continuing to push for investing in a “nice to have” but not mandatory new Glen Waverley community/library Hub which will cost ratepayers lots more in future acquisition and ongoing maintenance, when existing infrastructure are falling apart and not being replaced fast enough? Is Monash Council into building capital monuments to fulfil Councillors’ individual wish-lists? While there is no formal decision made to build this new infrastructure amenity, its project activities, like the one for selling the aged care facilities, would be pre orchestrated towards steering to future approval eventually.
During the Melbourne 2030 era, Monash Council was confirmed to be among the five to ten percent of cities with the worst performance in allocating open space for its community. Since then, Council has done nothing to increase public open space problem in the city when population has been growing and is expected to increase further with the implementation of Monash Housing Direction strategy. In the last seven years, land purchased by Council was for drainage purposes. Why have Councillors NOT place a high priority on increasing green public open space when their planning decisions’ direction is to increase Monash population and move towards more higher density and compact living conditions?
Councillors have an obligation to its community to:
- Ensure, in the final budget report, open disclosures of what the over-geared working capital and unrestricted cash ratios would be possibly spend on;
- Ensure Cr Lake, as an MAV representative and Director, as well as a Trustee Director of Vision Super, disclose the risk exposure of Council’s Defined Superannuation Liability over next 4 years, and what risk management improvements have MAV undertaken since the last shortfall of over $12 million.
- Explain why is investment in new and larger capital, such as the Glen Waverley Community/Library Hub is considered a higher decision priority than renewing current assets that are deteriorating faster than they are being replaced?
- Explain why they have not advocate to increase Monash’s green and public open space when they are strongly supporting for more compact and higher density living conditions in Monash?
We anticipate seeing a Councillors driven address of these concerns of the 2015/16 Budget Draft. Their decision to accept the budget will also reflect their resolve to improving budget transparency and accountability, and reducing community engagement tokenism.
We just completed reviewing the budget. Nothing new has changed. Transparency and accountability issues are still Monash Council’s budget planning and decision making integrity weaknesses.
Not surprising, Council is putting large amounts of unrestricted cash away (like $32 million in next year’s budget and $39 million in 2018/19) for long term capital projects that have not been approved yet. It is common community knowledge that the Glen Waverley Community Hub development (which many people believe is the very reason the 3 aged care facilities were sold) is the key driver of this large unrestricted cash reserve, which grows every year for the next 4 years. The community can expect another premeditated and biased decision making process to be played out as part of tokenistic community engagement to get this project approved and officiated its funding, now hiding through Unrestricted Cash & Working Capital Reserves.
Another thing we have taken note is the rush to spend all unused budgets, especially Councillors’ total discretionary funds. As the 2014/15 year is closing soon, it is important that Council spends any surplus cash as much as possible, to justify asking for more rates rise. Hence it is no wonder why the Mayor personally authorised the $37+K free lunch for Greek Easter and now a Councillor suggesting to give $10K foreign aid/charity. In the May Council Meeting Agenda item 7.1 (page 1), Council officers are recommending close to $10,000 to be given away, which is a high amount compared to past practices. It certainly appears there is money left over in the budget, especially Councillors’ discretionary budget total and they know they must spend it all before 2014/16 closes, which explains their generous giving of money away without best value justification, hence compliance to LG Act.
In the last month’s Council meeting Cr Geoff Lake, speaking in support of the budget noted that paying out the Council debt early was possible because of the sale of the residential aged care facilities. Ops the cat just slipped out of the bag. This contradicts with the official reason Council said, which was the operating the aged care facilities were financially unsustainable.
Another thing, we also discover, unrestricted cash constitutes between 19.62% to 21.7% of total revenue annually over the next 4 years, which means Monash Council has not just the capacity to cap rates, but to actually reduce rates, even during the last 2 years. So have ratepayers being lied to when the Mayor claims the 2015/16 budget draft provides a fairer rating system and gives ratepayers the lowest rates in Victoria? And if that is not enough to influence public opinion, try Cr Lake wanting to sweeten pensioners with a $50 rates discount, which works out to 96 cents a week or 14 cents a day, depending how dumb one assumes pensioners to be. Once again it is about our patronizing and groupthink Councillors doing for its community, not with its community.
A key and ongoing function of MRI advocacy work is checking oversight of good governance practice in all matters affecting Monash Council. During the last 18 months, MRI was approached by the public over concerns about the probity standard and integrity of the MAV/Ironbark procurement arrangement. We check the integrity of the information collected and compiled the evidence based report which we shared with a number of high authorities, including the Victoria Auditor General Office. We left the matter to their responsibility to deal with the matter and finally there is some results:
Finally, we have a positive outcome from our good governance oversight work, the VAGO report that highlights the need for major systematic improvements in the Local Government Victoria department and the LG Body Corporate, MAV.
The report highlighted that :
One of the preferred suppliers in the MAV/Ironbark deal, Artcraft Urban Group (AUG) was sued for IP copyright infringement last year (Federal Court of Australia, 2014). In the September 2014 Council meeting, Councillors knew of the court case hearing but the majority votes were to support procuring through MAV/Ironbark. Cr Lake did not declare that he is a paid Board member of the MAV, represents MAV in its superanuation business as advisor to Vision Super and that his partner works for MAV (this information is public information anyway). He cast his vote to procure through MAV/Ironbank.
In the January 2015 Council meeting, in item 5.2 (Council Representation on Organisations/Committees) Cr Zographos questioned why there were no report about Council’s representative on the MAV. Cr Lake behaved personally defensive about the question asked and the discussion continued as another typical misconduct episode of “debating about the person” rather the matter on hand.
The community needs to understand what exactly is the value add of Council’s MAV membership, which there is no accountability KPIs of benefits received at all. Cr Lake defensive response to not support public reporting Council’s representation on the MAV is not good enough for this community. His demonstration of a lacking probity culture reflects exactly some of the MAV integrity and accountability issues that the VAGO identified. It is time, the community expects public reports of KPI measures of MAV membership and a formal declaration of Cr Lake’s and other Councillors’ involvement in MAV and VLGA and other similar agencies.
We hope some of our Councillors will pursue questioning the value of MAV membership, review all procurement arrangements with MAV to attest their value add benefits, if any; and ensure Cr Lake is excluded from any future MAV decision making matters due to his personal and official conflicts of interest associated with MAV.
More news in:
- MAV under fire:http://www.lgfocus.com.au/editions/2015-02/audit-finds-support-for-local-councils-inadequate-and-out-of-date.php
MAV’s response to that report – http://www.mav.asn.au/News/Pages/vago-performance-audit-report-26feb15.aspx
Euneva Ave car park was built using subscription money provided by Glen Waverley traders when they purchase their business licences. Reality sucks because customers of these subscribing businesses don’t park there because it’s in the wrong place for them. The lead decision makers, Cr Lake and Klisaris, just can’t accept this reality, for reasons we don’t know or they are really lousy part-time car-park planning consultants.
In June 2013, the local papers reported that Monash Council is looking to traders and council staff to fill hundreds of vacant spaces at the $17.3 million white elephant Euneva car park, while shoppers and commuters battle for parking spaces in Kingsway and Bogong Ave (Waverley Leader, 6 June 2013)
In Aug 2014, the Euvena car park was less than 30% capacity and the Council decided to increase two levels of 176 car-parks to increase parking to five hours, while the parking limit for the remaining 177 spaces continued to be 3 hours. Cr Lake advocate against renting out of car parking spaces while acknowledging feedback from a community satisfaction survey revealed a need for more flexible parking in Glen Waverley (Waverley Leader, 13 Aug 2014)
Even more curious is that the recent 15 storey tower for Village Walk was granted an exemption from the required number of visitor spaces because, in part at least, there was spare capacity in the “nearby Euneva Avenue multi-storey car park”. Hmm, wonder what is the covet decision criterion?
In Feb 2015, Julia Rabar from Waverley leader reported the decisions made by Council to increase car parking hours in 2014 continues to fail attracting patrons. Patronage has declined further. The news article claimed “Cr Klisaris has also rejected a suggestion from the Glen Waverley Traders Association to scrap parking restrictions for the time being, saying the council was legally required to ensure customers had access to short-term parking…. Cr Klisaris said he would not bring forward a review scheduled for September.”
The Mayor said “We’re continuing to monitor usage and looking for ways to improve it, such as installing new signage,” and indicated that “two illuminated signs with a blue “P” would be installed to advertise the car park, with the cost to ratepayers yet to be determined.”
Glen Waverley Traders Association president Christo Christophidis supported current parking restrictions should be scrapped in the short term even if it meant commuters parking there (Waverley Leader, 19 Feb 2015)
No wonder car parking is in such a disarray, as it is last two years Cr Lake and Klisaris are directing Council officer experts how car-parks should be utilised. Why is this the case. It all links to the intending sale of central car-park that is anticipated just before or after the 2016 council election.
Is political self interest at play again in this Laklisaris city of ours?
Look at the facts:
On 23 January (during school holiday season), the car park was just 27.5% used
- In May 2014, it was 29% being used and in December 2013, capacity was 28%.
Why are Councillors refusing to maximise returns from assets utilisation?
Do they not know they are breaching best value principles in their 2013, 2014 and perhaps 2015 decision making over Glen Waverley car-parking affairs and therefore not making decisions in the best interest of the community?