Council costs

The SA Ombudsman’s finding that the Alexandrina Council committed maladministration by not gaining approval for one of its own projects is an embarrassing look for the council.
The recent verdict relates to a project at the Goolwa Wharf where concrete boat-mooring pontoons were installed and a length of boardwalk widened.
It was undertaken between 2009-11, however, some of the work was shoddy and the pontoons were later removed.
The project initially cost the council $447,000, but the ensuing legal battle to recover the costs of the pontoons has brought that tally up to an eye-watering $775,000.
The district’s ratepayers have covered this bill and the company responsible has gone into voluntary liquidation.
And, to add insult to injury, it emerged during the attempt to recover the costs of the sub-standard pontoons that the project lacked the council’s own legally-required building approvals.
The handling of this project would no doubt frustrate ratepayers, not just because of the waste of money but by either the deliberate decision by staff to ignore the planning rules or, if that’s not the case, then the unprofessional oversight to allow the project to proceed without the correct authority.
Any resident who wants to install something as simple as a shed must dodge, duck and dive through hoops, cut through red tape, tick boxes and pay project lodgment fees in order to be granted approval.
The rules must be applied equally – to residents, businesses and governments.
The key staff primarily responsible for this farce are no longer employed by the council and both they and the council should count their lucky stars the Ombudsman recommended no action be taken against them.
The best that can come of this sorry situation is that lessons are learned and these mistakes are not repeated.
This is a good wake-up call for all councils, which should be reminded to ensure their own house is in order to avoid risking further embarrassments and backlash.
Situations such as this only reinforce the divide between local government and the communities they are there to serve.