Saturday, 4 March 2017

Clarence Valley Council: let's play the guessing game

The 11am 3 March 2017 Clarence Valley Council extraordinary meeting took a whole 8 minutes to move into a closed session which lasted approx. 1 hour & 21 minutes and, then a further 6 minutes was spent unanimously passing a motion to the effect that the closed session resolution concerning the General Manager's employment contract is to remain confidential before closing the meeting*.

The Daily Examiner on 4 March 2017 reported Mayor Simmons as stating "So far as I'm concerned Scott is still the general manager of the council". 

Nothing to see here, move along says the council.

However, this is an intriguing situation as the newspaper also reported; Sources inside the council confirm there is intense speculation among council employees about the future of the general manager.

So let's play the guessing game.....

The business paper and minutes of Clarence Valley Council’s 21 February 2017 ordinary monthly meeting contained Item 11.001/17 Mayoral Minute.

This mayor minute specifically dealt with the “General Manager’s Performance Agreement” or as characterised elsewhere in the monthly meeting minutes the “General Manager’s Performance Agreement – Proposed Variation”.

A Performance Agreement contains the agreed benchmarks used to conduct a General Manager’s Performance Review and the minutes stated words to the effect that that an agreement between council and the general manager needed to be reached on details discussed in the 21 February Item 11.001/17 closed session.

So far it seems pretty straightforward.

Either council or the general manager requested changes to the contents of the Performance Agreement ahead of a Performance Review conducted by the mayor, deputy-mayor, a councillor nominated by council and a councillor nominated by a general manager.

Because of the form in which it came before Council-in-the-Chamber, I suspect that the variation request came from the general manager.

It is noted that within days of the ordinary monthly meeting the general manager went on what appears to be unexpected leave scheduled to end on 13 March. This leave has since been publicly described as "sick leave".

Then ten days after this February monthly meeting an extraordinary meeting was held – with a council spokesperson making a point of saying that meeting process allows two or more councillors to call an extraordinary meeting.

Because of a remark made to a journalist on 3 March and reported online via video, it is unlikely that this meeting was called by more than the minimum number of councillors required.

By then the subject of the one item before Council-in-the-Chamber had changed from a specific mention of Performance Agreement to the term “General Manager’s Employment Contract” and, local media were saying that the extraordinary meeting was to decide the future of [the] Clarence Valley Council general manager.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to work out that it is likely that council and the general manager could not reach an agreement concerning either changes to the Performance Agreement, some aspect of the Performance Review or another contract issue  – and matters had quickly come to a head.

So what would happen in such a situation if the issue or issues remained unresolved?

Well the general manager could arrange to extend his paid "sick leave" indefinitely while employment matters continued to be argued. According to one local retiree with business experience this has been known to occur in management circles.

Though the simplest course of action would be for council or the general manager to terminate the employment contract before its expiry date.

Something which is allowed for in Guidelines For The Appointment & Oversight Of General Managers under section 23A of the Local Government Act 1993 (July 2011):

The general manager may terminate the contract by giving 4 weeks written notice to the governing body of council………..

A governing body of council may terminate the general manager’s contract at any time by giving the general manager 38 weeks written notice or pay the general manager a lump sum of 38 weeks remuneration in accordance with Schedule C of the Standard Contract. If there are less than 38 weeks left to run in the term of the general manager’s contract, a council can pay out the balance of the contract in lieu of notice.

Now 4 weeks written notice by the general manager would possibly see an end to his employment in April 2017 and, depending on the exact start date, 38 weeks’ notice given by council would possibly end in October 2017.

On the other hand, 38 weeks remuneration in lieu of notice for a Clarence Valley Council general manager would have to be in the vicinity of $183,000 if not more.

In the grand scheme of things neither April nor October are that far away, but I’m willing to wager that there are a number of residents and ratepayers who would be in favour of council paying out that large sum as soon as possible.

It has been five long years since the current general manager was hired and those years have been marked by varying levels of disapproval, discontent, distrust, tension and alienation within council's governing body, council's staff and the valley community - due in some measure to the management style and attitude of this general manager.

It was stated on The Clarence Forum Facebook page that immediately the closed session segment of the meeting ended Cr. Richie Williamson left the meeting. This is not yet confirmed by mainstream media reports.


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