At yesterday’s council meeting Paul Bradstreet of Surf Beach, along with Peter Cormick and Jim Bright attempted to set out the case for the public discussion of the renewal of the Eurobodalla Shire Council General Manager, Catherine Dale’s, contract. The chair stopped Paul Bradstreet from speaking part way through his presentation as he was only allowed two minutes to present with no extension of time allowed: This is the presentation in full had he been allowed to present it all.
Good afternoon councillors
I put it to you that parts of these reports are of considerable community concern, do not impact directly the interests of a particular individual and that the public interest and sound administrative practice demands these parts should be discussed and decided by council in public.
Until relatively recently it was council’s practice to label all confidential items with a heading in the agenda papers which provided a description of what the subject matter of the report under consideration was. This allowed interested ratepayers to judge whether whole or part of the report should be better dealt with in public. Abandonment of this highly desirable practice puts members of the public in the difficult, indeed Kafkaesque, position of having to speculate on the content of agenda items labelled generically. Fortunately, today I was assisted in identifying the subject matter by the considerable community discussion around leaks from council concerning the completion of the general manager’s performance review and an imminent decision to respond to her request for a long extension of her employment contract.
I am not particularly concerned with the transparency of any decision to confirm the results of the GM’s performance review. Judging her performance against agreed KPIs is a personnel matter which is best undertaken in private. This is not to say, of course, that the KPIs themselves should be private and for many years I, and others, have requested that the GM’s negotiated performance agreement is put on the public record. This would allow the public to see whether what the GM is required to achieve aligns with councillor agreed strategic directions.
However, I am very concerned that you are poised to decide on a long extension of her employment contract ahead of a careful discussion of the best process to fill the position on the expiry next year of her present contract. I urge you to have this discussion in public today so members of the community can be satisfied that you have undertaken the due diligence necessary to underpin such an important decision.
Past councils’ handling of the retirement and recruitment of general managers has been fraught with public controversy in Eurobodalla and, for this reason alone, this time around you need to deal with these matters with great care if public confidence is to be maintained. Subsequent changes in government policies vindicate the public concern. Jim Levy’s notorious $100,000 golden parachute payout would not now be possible, without the agreement of the Minister for Local Government. And, the state government has now accepted that the extension of Paul Anderson’s contract so close to the 2012 election was, for obvious reasons, an undesirable practice.
If you propose to move away from the sound practice of throwing open to competition the GM position at the termination of the current incumbent’s term you need to carefully explain your reasons to the public. After all, fixed terms of 4 to 5 year duration for senior executives are the norm these days in multi million dollar public sector organisations. And the reasons for this are more than simply avoiding the dangers of despotism and corruption but go to the need, from time to time, to inject into complex organisations a new vigour and sense of purpose that comes from having a different person at the top.
So I request that you separate out for public discussion those aspects relating to agreement of the process for deciding on a replacement for the general manger at the completion of her current contract. These matters include the method of recruitment or appointment and the broad terms and conditions of employment. If it is not possible to do this today I suggest you defer the matter to a later meeting. The guidelines for the employment of general managers suggest that you do not need to respond to her request for an extension until 6 months before the completion of the contract – that is not until September.
As well as allowing you time to a take soundings in the community a deferment has the great advantage of giving you more time to test the market for local government senior executives which, I am told, is over supplied with talent at the moment due to the abolition of 20 or so councils in NSW.