By Shane Scanlan
Melbourne CEO Ben Rimmer leaves a shadow over the council this month after failing to have his four-year contract renewed.
Specifically, Mr Rimmer departs without concluding the process he engineered a year ago in response to sexual misconduct allegations against former lord mayor Robert Doyle.
The yet-to-be-concluded inquiry by Ian Freckleton QC is not the reason councillors declined to continue his tenure. Rather, it was his controlling style and nature that destroyed their relationship long before the Doyle allegations were aired.
But the inconclusive investigation leaves an indelible stain on the council as a symbol of its continuing unwillingness to confront its demons and, as a consequence, perpetuates a toxic corporate culture of secrecy and entitlement.
When former councillor Tessa Sullivan dramatically hurled into the CEO’s office last year a resignation-grenade loaded with allegations against Mr Doyle, Mr Rimmer had multiple courses of action open to him.
The process he ultimately chose had the desired effect of forcing Mr Doyle’s resignation but has pretty much let down everyone else involved.
The inquiry he commissioned by Mr Freckleton lacked the power to compel Mr Doyle to respond to allegations. Mr Doyle has refused to co-operate. The stalemate continues.
In the fallout:
Mr Rimmer has selectively released just 805 words of Mr Freckelton’s initial 100-page report. Any further, or final, reports are as far away as ever;
Mr Freckelton’s reputation has suffered by association and he must regret accepting the job; and
Mr Doyle’s reputation is destroyed but, technically, he carries no conviction and, indeed, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He retains his AC and membership of the Liberal Party.
But it’s the “victims” who have been let down the most. Because of Mr Rimmer’s extreme secrecy, we don’t even know how many there are.
We don’t know how many women came forward with allegations against Mr Doyle and we don’t know how many Mr Freckelton chose to investigate. We don’t even know what terms of reference Mr Freckelton was told to work to.
The only people who know this are Mr Rimmer, Mr Freckelton, Mr Doyle and their associated lawyers.
What we do know is that women were encouraged to come forward and lay themselves bare through the process. We know they were assured that they would receive justice.
This appears to be a cruel lie and remains so while the City of Melbourne struggles to conclude the investigation.
The council’s position seems to be one of hope. It hopes the issue will just go away – as if by magic.
Mr Rimmer has consistently maintained a sphinx-like stance that he will report back when he has something to report.
At then in his final weeks, on November 23 he “reportedly” reported back, with The Age reporting a leaked letter to councillors.
The Age reported the presence of a “second” Freckelton report which the public had previously been told would not be possible without the co-operation of Mr Doyle. The Age reports Mr Rimmer warning councillors that Mr Doyle may seek an injunction to prevent the release of this report.
When speculating on the source of the leak, CBD News recommends including council’s administration in the mix.
The report implies Mr Rimmer has been working on a solution, but it must have been apparent almost from the beginning that this matter would be inconclusive. Early and frank public disclosure could have laid this matter to rest.
It’s disappointing that his policy of secrecy has been supported by councillors and Lord Mayor Sally Capp. Mr Rimmer had convinced councillors that it was not in their best interests to pursue the matter.
In July, Cr Capp let her wishful thinking materialise into an erroneous statement on air to ABC Radio presenter Jon Faine when she claimed the process had concluded. She subsequently had to correct the record.
On November 13 she revealed further her hope that the issue would go away when blocking a question from CBD News asking Mr Rimmer if he would have done things differently if he had his time again.
“The past is the past …,” she started a sentence before apparently thinking better of it.
By shielding the council’s CEO during public question time at the Future Melbourne Committee meeting, Cr Capp fell into line with the City of Melbourne’s long-held view that it is not only above public scrutiny, it is always right – even when it is wrong.
A breathless recent example of this is the council’s refusal to acknowledge it was wrong to claim the Lord Mayor’s Commendations would be held this year.
The commendations are held every year to acknowledge the contribution of small business owners in the municipality but, with the May by-election for a new lord mayor, it was always doubtful that it would happen in 2018.
Our questioning on this started in July when we were assured by the council’s “Ministry of Truth” (media unit) that it would happen. We were similarly reassured in October so we pressed further knowing that it takes many months to organise this annual event.
Eventually, a council spokesperson offered: “The City of Melbourne is looking forward to recognising the contributions and milestones of local businesses when the Lord Mayor’s Commendations take place this financial year.” (Our emphasis.)
This response, in itself, is insignificant. But it illustrates an entitled attitude that comes from the top and permeates the organisation.
A new CEO is being recruited and is expected to be appointed in the new year.
If the culture is to improve, councillors need to appoint someone motivated to wield a big axe and purge the town hall of anyone who does not respect and feel accountable to the community.