Canning’s insurers abandon it?

CanningAccountability image puzzle piece

At bottom:  Is the breakdown of the $1.6m Inquiry bill cost outrageous?

In what will probably be viewed as a “sensation”, at the last council meeting held via our “under administration” status, the Commissioners overrode staff recommendations to continue negotiating on the $1.6m Inquiry in to City of Canning bill and told them to pay it.

That money, it seems, will come from ratepayer funds, in the form of drawing down on the $1.9m in our Local Govt and Organisation Development Reserve.

No doubt this news will invoke conspiracy theories (Commissioners doing their Master’s bidding!), anger that the City of Canning is being treated unfairly, and will probably smack a hole through a few mayoral candidates’ plans for that money – additions to basket ball stadiums, perhaps?

Mostly it will be viewed as outrageous that the ratepayers have to pay it at all.

Yet is there more to this issue than we currently know?

Critical Observation: 
There’s been no mention of our City’s indemnity insurance paying this bill, even though the legal costs of the former councillors, and presumably former CEO Mark Dacombe were settled quickly.  Why?

We asked the CEO of Canning about this in July, in fact we had to ask twice, and Ms Russell replied “This matter is still under review”.  Well, it isn’t now.  So will our indemnity insurers pay this huge bill for us or not?  There’s no sign of it in the “Urgent” additional item to the last Council Meeting, the commissioners’ last, to deal with the inquiry bill before a new council comes in.

Is there a problem here?  Is the City at fault in some way?  What about the Minister’s own Dept of Local Govt & Communities (DLGC)?

The Canning Examiner picked up there were serious concerns about the performance of the City of Canning administration and DLGC during the investigation.  (Congrats to Examiner Editor Robyn Molloy, BTW, for being recognized at the recent WA Media Awards!)

The poor compliance to subpoenas, as we recall from the then-publicly available transcripts, was considered so disruptive to effective proceedings Barrister Dr Christopher Kendall was forced to delay the inquiry for months (Minister for Local Govt, Tony Simpson, quietly authorized an extension, which blew out the time frames and most likely the costs of the inquiry).

Is this why there appears no sign that our insurers will pay the City’s inquiry bill, when it quickly settled the witnesses’ legal fees?  We all know from our personal lives we face the possibility of our insurance policies not paying out on claims if it is found we had a role to play in cause and effect of said claim.

The costs of the Inquiry actually don’t seem that remarkable to us HERE (page 8, blurry, but still readable – printing out clarifies)

It was an Inquiry that went on for a year and had the powers of a Royal Commission (a higher level than the DLGC’s “Authorised Inquiry” that kicked off the independent second Panel Inquiry in to Canning).

We are aware that former Commissioner Reynolds, who did have some idea of how much this Inquiry could cost, offered Dr Kendall room at the City’s offices, to try to cut down on the expense of it, but let’s face it – the City’s staff numbers have blown out so much now they can’t house their own people, and how “independent” could Dr Kendall’s investigation have been perceived to be if it had been held there?

So office lease/outfitting/running costs, staff costs (including senior legal and DLGC staff), perhaps even court space costs for the hearings, travel, cleaning expenses, etc don’t sound unusual, otherwise.  Its cost ratepayers a lot to have to lease and fit-out a shop at one of the largest shopping centres in the state just to contain staff overflow – that only occurred after democratic brakes were removed at Canning, and our central civic offices were only built in 2006!  It will cost circa $1.5m to build enough room to house the extra staff back at HQ – gasping at costs for a powerful inquiry that had massive effect seems a little ironic.

It should be pointed out that Dr Kendall, unlike DLGC, placed a high priority on keeping the public informed throughout – he set up a website that contained daily breakdowns of the hearings (evidence and transcripts), including mail outs, advertising, etc.  The postal costs included sending out hard copies of the thick final report to all interested parties, etc.

The software programs alone that seemed to be involved in this high level inquiry, so that all parties could access what was needed on a database, etc, would have been expensive.  CEO Russell slipped through a few questionable expenses of her own, viz-a-viz communication systems, when a $750,000 motion for a centralised Contact Centre and associated “management system” was rushed through via Special Council Meeting as Canning’s situation looked dire under reform.

Two critical points to note about that decision, authorised by former Commissioner Linton Reynolds:

  1. On the same Agenda at that SCM was Canning’s “submission” – as opposed to a formal Proposal – to Local Govt Advisory Board, to back out of Reynolds’ original proposal to merge Canning with Gosnells, as it became obvious the administration had condemned itself
  2. In order to fund the cost of building a contact centre/system, take a look at what was delayed: investigating aquifer recharging (Canning had been advised it would not receive any more permits to put down bores to service parks, sporting fields), putting GPS tracking in staff cars, deferring car parks, tree planting, upgrading meeting room technology and more

Some seek to summarily blame or condemn the former council every chance they get – but now the official cost of that is due, and there’s no official sign the City’s insurers will pay for it.  Why?

As for questioning the Commissioners on this one, Steve Cole (Chairman Commissioner) is considered an outstanding lawyer and has had the courage to be strong on Canning’s financial issues. Perhaps he’s seeking to save us from ourselves on this one.

Image by HebiFot  Sourced from Pixabay.  Licence CCO 1.O