Less than a month ago then-Warrnambool City Council chief executive officer Peter Schneider vowed to work hard to win back public confidence in the organisation after poor customer satisfaction survey results.
This week he was sacked behind closed doors. The job of restoring ratepayers' trust and confidence in the council is now immeasurably more difficult.
Public reaction to the 4-3 termination vote has been negative, largely because those who voted out Mr Schneider say confidentiality grounds prohibit them from fully explaining the reasons and financial ramifications.
Ratepayers are demanding answers. They want to know why councillors have thrown away who knows how much in a financial settlement to a man who was only 18 months into a four-year contract. They want to know why this can happen after they were slugged higher rates last year when the council received permission from the state government to do so because it could not afford a growing maintenance backlog. Ratepayers also know the council has deferred a second year of rate increases above the state government cap and more hip-pocket pain is coming their way.
Former long-time councillors expressed their disappointment this week, one saying current councillors needed to stop behaving like children and another saying the sacking was the first in the region's history.
Director Vikki King has been appointed interim CEO for up to 12 months with the job of finding a new permanent chief left to a new council after elections in October.
But will elections actually go ahead? The Municipal Association of Victoria this week renewed calls for elections to be deferred because of COVID-19 impacts.
Who would want to run for council in October knowing they have an enormous job ahead to help restore public confidence? With a series of independent investigations into the council's operations yet to be finalised including one from the ombudsman, things could get worse before they get better. The four councillors who voted out the CEO say all councillors need to move forward and work together for the city's best interests in their remaining few months but mayor Tony Herbert has so far been silent on whether he believes that can happen.
Ratepayers elected councillors to act in their best interests. Some feel they didn't this week but others are backing their judgement.
Before trust can be restored, the council needs fresh air from investigations and personal politics.
Delaying the CEO appointment makes sense until investigations are completed. As for councillors, they need to work hard together for the city and citizens and salvage something from this mess before we go to the polls.