By Kirra Grimes
FEARING the decision could be taken out of their hands if the Local Government Minister elects to bring in administrators after May 9, South Gippsland Shire councillors have voted to hold a special meeting on May 8 to appoint a new chief executive officer.
Current CEO Tim Tamlin’s contract isn’t due to expire until the end of June, but Minister Adem Somyurek’s impending verdict on whether or not to suspend or dismiss the council and replace them with administrators has driven them to act on the matter of Tamlin’s replacement sooner rather than later.
At last week’s ordinary council meeting at Leongatha, seven out of the eight councillors in attendance (Cr Jeremy Rich was an apology) voted in favour of seeking applicants for an acting CEO position, with the preferred candidate to be recommended to a special meeting of council on Wednesday, May 8, 2019.
The acting CEO would be appointed for a period of one year, commencing on June 25, 2019, with council’s Chief Executive Officer Employment and Remuneration committee (made up of all councillors and an independent chairperson) to invite expressions of interest in the role from “appropriately experience and qualified South Gippsland Shire Council employees”.
The issue was put on last week’s meeting agenda as a matter of urgent business by Cr Ray Argento, with the justification that council “may not be in a position to approve the CEO’s position before the expiry of the current contract”.
In elaborating on the urgency of the matter, Cr Argento said council needed to provide “continuity and certainty” to South Gippsland Shire Council employees about the leadership of the organisation after the expiry of Tamlin’s contact.
Cr Argento said it was important to “protect employee morale during the uncertainty surrounding the elected councillors’ immediate future,” and that, given the “current environment” and the “unknown as to where the council’s heading,” after the minister’s review, there was a possibility of “diminished market interest” in the permanent CEO role and in turn a “reduced likelihood of interest in the position from highly credentialed applicants”.
He also said it was “desirable” that “any decision about the appointment of a permanent CEO for the South Gippsland Shire Council be made by a democratically elected council.”
“It’s our decision. It’s the future of this council. If an administrator comes in and overturns it, so be it. But this gives a bit of a gap in ensuring a bit of stability for the next 12 months at least,” he said.
Crs Alyson Skinner, Rosemary Cousin, Andrew McEwen and Mayor Cr Don Hill voiced support for these points.
“We’ve got two options,” said Cr Skinner.
“One: we just do nothing and wait to see what the minister will or won’t do- in which case we’re running out of time and we could face a period where we actually do not have a CEO…
“Or we could acknowledge the position that we’re in, that of uncertain times and that’s not only for councillors, that’s for council staff and administration and projects and the community members.
“And I’ve heard a fair bit from community members speaking directly to me about protecting the democratic right of elected representatives to undertake this process in a proper manner,” she said.
Cr Cousin agreed the appointment of an acting CEO was “the appropriate direction to take at this time,” and encouraged Tamlin to apply for the position.
“It is important that the CEO’s position is a decision that is made by elected representatives – this is for our community,” she said.
“It’s a precautionary measure that is absolutely essential and I wish to have it on the record that I personally would like to see Mr Tamlin apply for this position to allow for continuity of the organisation. It is with the greatest respect Mr Tamlin that I regard your services and I would hope that you would consider that.”
Mayor Cr Don Hill said the processes undertaken by the Chief Executive Officer Employment and Remuneration committee, which would be responsible for appointing the acting CEO, were “rigorous and above board”.
Cr Hill said the committee had been in the process of searching for Tamlin’s replacement for the permanent CEO position for the past six months but had struggled to attract suitably qualified candidates.
“The water is really muddy at the moment with our shire,” Cr Hill said.
“The risk to a good applicant applying was a very serious risk… and that did show itself. We did not get the response from the recruiting companies that we would’ve expected if the waters hadn’t been muddied.
“So, rather than progress with a less than acceptable response from the recruiting companies, a perhaps less than acceptable response from applicants to leave the shire with a very poor choice, it was determined by the committee quite properly to install an acting position until the muddy waters were clear and it can be recommenced in the future the proper process to appoint a CEO by the democratically elected councillors of this shire who know the views of the shire better than any administrator could possibly know.”
Cr McEwen said shifting from a democracy to an “autocratic administrative system,” could leave South Gippsland “lumbered with extremely poor decisions,” as he argued had happened under previous administrators, using the example of “poorly written” caravan park leases and contracts costing the shire “millions of dollars.”
“We might well have many fantastic people appointed as administrators they may or may not be local but at the end of the day they are not democratically elected they are not responsible to the community,” he said.
Cr Brown questions “rush” decision
But Cr Aaron Brown had a different view, expressing strong opposition to the proposed course of action and going out on his own in voting against the motion.
“I don’t believe that regarding this particular issue, proper government processes have been followed,” Cr Brown said, arguing that committees he’d sat on had received “professional advice” questioning why council would be “pushing for” a CEO appointment, “given its predicament”.
“Why are we potentially rushing this whole process?” Cr Brown put to his fellow councillors.
“At this point in time, I don’t see any reason why we should be trying to make this decision before this particular date.
“Given the track record and the situations that have happened in recent times, and where we’re at at the moment, I don’t trust us being able to make this decision.”
“And if the worst comes to pass, and we do get dismissed or we are suspended, I have full confidence in whoever is placed in as a commissioner to make this particular decision.”
Cr Brown told the Sentinel-Times after the vote he also believed the community would “take more comfort” in knowing that if council were dismissed or suspended the decision on the CEO’s appointment would be made by an administrator.
“I believe the government would put in place someone who knows the community very well and would have the best interests of the shire at heart,” he said.