It's an understatement Warrnambool City Council is facing a big task to win back the confidence of ratepayers after recent events.
The council spent $30,000 on engaging consultants to survey residents about a big rates increase after some residents had been vocal in opposing the rise. The result, more than 94 per cent of people opposed the increase. Yet the council lifted rates by 4.5 per cent after getting the Essential Services Commission's approval to go beyond the state cap of 2.5 per cent.
The ESC's judgement highlighted the council's financial position was unsustainable and recommended it lift fees and charges. The rises, including parking fines hitting $80 (up from $70) and cat registrations jumping to $70 were unpopular.
It was no surprise then that when it emerged a senior officer had been asked to repay an unspecified amount of money for inappropriate purchases on his council credit card, residents were upset.
The council has 81 credit cards among its staff - a common business practice in 2019. But why so many?
It says it has "checks and balances" in place to ensure appropriate use. It points to the fact an internal review identified the purchases needed to be repaid that the procedures worked. It has also since made rules more prescriptive for staff.
The council says it is reviewing the use and need of all 81 but it will take time and it has a process to follow. When that is completed, the council must make the findings public. The same applies to its "organisational review" that will explore ways of cutting costs. The senior officer's resignation this week means the council has a run at getting its house in order. But to do that, the public needs to know only essential work items are bought on the cards.
The council needs to show financial leadership. The council needs to be open, transparent and accountable. Should it be required to present lists of credit card purchases at each public meeting? Or quarterly?
All is not lost for the council. It has a chance to act swiftly and decisively and to learn from the past. Only then will it have a chance to win back the public's confidence.