By Michael Giles
BASS Coast Shire Council has four general managers and one shire CEO.
That’s five top management positions and since Paul Buckley was appointed as CEO in December 2013, four out of five of those roles have gone to former Latrobe City executives.
Is it conceivable that the best available people to fill the top jobs at the Bass Coast Shire all, or mostly all, come from Latrobe City?
Former Wonthaggi Mayor and prominent local ratepayer, Alan Brown, doesn’t believe so.
He has accused the shire council of allowing a culture of cronyism or “jobs-for-mates” to develop in the very top management positions at the shire following the appointment of Paul Buckley PSM as CEO in February 2014.
And he doesn’t believe it’s a healthy situation.
Since December 2013, three of the shire’s four general managers; Mark Brady, Allison Jones and David Elder; all former Latrobe City officers who worked with Mr Buckley, have been appointed to the second highest positions at Bass Coast; all of which command salaries well into the six figures.
• Paul Buckley (CEO) was appointed Latrobe City CEO in August 2004, but was acting CEO prior to that time. He joined Bass Coast as CEO in February 2014.
• Felicity Sist (General Manager Infrastructure) is the only member of the shire’s executive group that has not worked at Latrobe City with Mr Buckley. She has performed various roles at Bass Coast since 1995.
• Mark Brady (general manager governance and organisation development): Prior to joining Bass Coast, in December 2014, Mark was Chief Governance Officer at Latrobe City more than a decade ago but prior to coming to Bass Coast, served terms at City of Frankston and City of Port Phillip, most recently as their executive manager governance and culture.
• Allison Jones (general manager of sustainable development and growth): A general manager at Latrobe City for 10 years until April 2014, including roles as manager of economic development and general manager economic sustainability at Latrobe for six years, Allison joined Bass Coast in March 2015.
• David Elder (general manager healthy communities): David spent six years at Latrobe City in various management roles, most recently as acting general manager of community liveability before arriving at Bass Coast in December last year.
And there are other former Latrobe City employees in the third tier of shire management:
• Deirdre Griepsma (manager sustainable environment): Worked at Latrobe City for four years, nine months, until her appointment at Bass Coast in March 2014 where she held the position manager natural environment sustainability (Mr Buckley, who commenced at Bass Coast on February 17, 2014 says he had no role in this appointment).
• Damian Blackford (manager infrastructure maintenance): Is set to join Bass Coast from Latrobe City in November 2015, where he has worked as their manager infrastructure development since June 2011.
That brings to six as the number of senior executives at Bass Coast, who previously worked at Latrobe City, all of them appointed in the past two years.
Of the other nine managers at Bass Coast Shire, seven of them pre-date Mr Buckley’s appointment: Sharon Fowles manager governance, John Wynen manager people and culture, Brian Olden manager information services, Peter Francis economic development and tourism manager, Cohen Van der Velde manager infrastructure delivery, Jamie Sutherland manager asset management and Antoinette Mitchell manager community strengthening.
In fact, only two of the eight senior managers, appointed since the arrival of Mr Buckley and still serving at Bass Coast did not come from Latrobe City. They are:
• Brett Exelby (manager finance): Joined Bass Coast in November 2014 from Mid-Western Regional Council and prior to that Colac-Otway and Queensland.
• Jodi Kennedy (manager strategic planning): Jodi joined Bass Coast in January 2013 from the private sector and before that Bendigo City Council.
Mr Brown says it’s a problem.
Bass Coast CEO Paul Buckley says it isn’t, although he concedes there may be a perception problem (see his response on facing page).
“Of course it’s a problem,” Mr Brown said this week.
“For senior positions, they should be employing the best people available to provide the best service to the people of Bass Coast Shire.
“And these are highly paid positions we are talking about,” Mr Brown said.
“It is inconceivable that the best people available are mostly coming from the one small Victorian municipality of Latrobe City.
“But that’s what’s happening with the major appointments at Bass Coast Shire at the moment.
“We would expect that these positions are being advertised widely, not only in Victoria but also interstate, in an effort to attract the best possible people available to fill these roles.”
He said it was simply not believable, in an open process, that so many people, all former colleagues of Mr Buckley at Latrobe, had emerged as the best candidates.
“It’s just inconceivable. No one I know believes it,” he said.
Mr Brown has urged the council to challenge the CEO about the numbers of people from Latrobe City being appointed.
Former Bass Coast Mayor, Cr Neil Rankine, said council had also noted the professional experience of the senior appointments but were not allowed to have a role in staff recruitment.
“What it comes down to is that the council appointed the CEO to do a job and it’s up to him to get the best people for the job.
“It’s up to him to say who he is going to employ.
“As councillors, we specifically cannot get involved in staff matters or the recruitment of staff,” Cr Rankine said
“We can set the broad agenda, say what services and infrastructure we want, and then it’s up to him to deliver it.”
Cr Rankine said he believed that Mr Buckley didn’t intend to stay at Bass Coast for a long time but was determined to get things done while he’s here.
“He’s very much in demand in local government and I expect he’s in a hurry to get things done.
“We’ve wanted him to make it a more efficient operation so that we can break out more funds for the things the community wants us to do and we’re doing that,” he said.
Not that it doesn’t lead to friction, it does at times, says Cr Rankine.
“Fundamentally council and the staff both want to achieve things for the community it’s just that we see things differently at times.”
Mr Brown is also concerned that the shire might be trying to appoint two more former Latrobe City managers, to fill the two managers positions which have recently been vacated: ‘Manager Development Services” and “Manager Community Health and Well Being”. Applications for those positions closed yesterday.
Rebecca Mouy and Philippa O’Halloran left these roles four to six weeks ago.
Perception problem, says Mr Buckley
BASS Coast Shire Council CEO, Paul Buckley, has conceded that there could be a perception, at least, that the shire is appointing Latrobe City applicants ahead of others to local management positions.
But that’s certainly not the case, he told the Sentinel-Times this week.
Asked how it could be that six of the eight appointments made to managers’ roles since he joined council, could be from Latrobe, he said that they were simply the best applicants.
“Of the list above (Mark Brady, Allison Jones, David Elder, Deirdre Griepsma and Damian Blackford), the Council appointed me (I commenced in February 2014). Deirdre Griepsma was appointed prior to my commencement (I had no involvement in that appointment). Therefore, four of the people identified have been appointed by me. Mark Brady was recruited from the City of Port Phillip (Mark left Latrobe in 2004 and has worked at two other Councils since – Frankston and Port Phillip),” Mr Buckley explained.
He said that while he had been appointed to Bass Coast in December 2013, he had not been contacted by his former colleague, Ms Griepsma, who did not start at Bass Coast until March 2014.
“Hannah (Duncan-Jones) contacted me after I’d started in the February and asked if I had any issue with Deirdre being appointed. I said I didn’t but I had no role whatsoever in the process.”
Other questions put to Mr Buckley:
Q1. How likely is it that most of the best candidates for these jobs are coming from Latrobe City?
A1. As previously advised, we appoint people based on merit to ensure the best person for the job is recruited. The recruitment of all staff is undertaken through open and transparent processes. In the case of senior appointments we also utilise the services of an independent professional recruitment company. The first step in this process is for the independent company to shortlist candidates. A thorough interview process is then undertaken, including by the independent recruitment company, to ensure we make an independent assessment of applicants. These people went through the same process as all candidates and were shortlisted by the recruitment company based on their skills and experience, and their capacity to introduce organisational change. In the most recent appointment (Damian Blackford), we had to go through a second recruitment process because the person offered the role in the first instance (from Queensland) withdrew for family reasons after verbally accepting the position. We have also recruited two other managers during my time here – one internal appointment (Manager Asset Management) and one external (Manager Finance) – neither with any connection to Latrobe. We are also currently recruiting two managers – Manager Community Health and Wellbeing and Manager Development Services.
Q2. Do you concede that there is at least a perception of ‘jobs for mates’?
A2. Whilst that may be a perception, I am very confident that the processes used for all appointments ensures that appointments are based on merit utilising open and transparent processes.
Q3. Does he see an issue with appointing so many former Latrobe City employees?
A3. No, I am very confident that the processes used for all appointments ensures that appointments are based on merit utilising open and transparent processes.
Q4. Wouldn’t it be better to seek more diversity and appoint people who can bring something different to Bass Coast?
A4. I am confident that all appointments bring diversity of skills and experience, and a capacity to introduce organisational change.
Q5. Councillors tell us that these senior appointments are entirely the responsibility of the CEO. Is that so?
A5. Yes, the Local Government Act clearly stipulates that the Council is responsible for the appointment of the CEO and that the CEO is responsible for all other staff matters, including recruitment and appointment.