The dispute between Moyne Shire Council and the Mortlake Community Development Committee over the town's community room has taken a bitter and expensive turn as both sides bring lawyers into the fight.
MCDC president Kelvin Goodall took to Facebook on Sunday evening to say the committee had "sought independent legal advice" in an attempt to stop the council evicting the group from the all-purpose room at the Mortlake Community Centre.
"MCDC sought independent legal advice, and engaged a Warrnambool law firm to represent it and act on its behalf," Mr Goodall wrote in the post.
The council has responded by engaging Melbourne-based law firm Maddocks, which specialises in corporate and government matters.
A council spokesman said as the dispute had become a legal matter the shire wouldn't comment on it. The matter is highly likely to end up before the Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal, which would mean further costs for both parties.
Mr Goodall conceded hiring lawyers was a considerable escalation, but said the council left MCDC no other avenue.
"In early May we went in for what we were told would be an 'informal chat' with (recreation and community development manager) Jacquie Anderton and (community and corporate services director) David Rae. At that meeting we were told the shire was kicking us out, end of discussion," Mr Goodall said.
On May 10 MCDC received a letter from the council confirming the decision in writing. "That was when we sought legal advice," Mr Goodall said.
Some locals have questioned the MCDC decision to bring in lawyers, asking whether all avenues of negotiation had been exhausted with the council.
Mr Goodall said the May 10 letter - which announced the termination of MCDC's lease on the room effective June 30 - had started the clock counting and the group had to act quickly to have any chance of keeping the community room.
"If we hadn't gone to the lawyers we would be out on our a***," he said. "They've got no sense of decency, they've got no sense of doing the right thing."
Mr Goodall said he had met with then-chief executive Bill Millard about the community room in January.
"He gave an assurance they wouldn't interfere with the lease and would find an alternative space for the new hub." he said.
"The next contact from the shire was the meeting announcing we were being kicked out."
"After the meeting with Bill Millard we thought everything would be okay. We were completely blindsided."
Mr Goodall said he was confident MCDC would retain its lease, which isn't due to expire until 2028, saying the council had no legal grounds for breaking it.
"The lease can only be broken if the tenant is a corporation, but MCDC is an incorporated entity, so the shire can't cancel it, they've mucked themselves up."
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