Saturday, June 9, 2018

Don't mention the council staff

Derwent Valley Council acting general manager Mark Eady, left,
and Mayor Martyn Evans at the April council meeting.
RATEPAYERS have been told their questions about Derwent Valley Council staff will not be answered. Under increasing pressure to explain why two short-term appointments have lasted five times longer than planned, the council says neither councillors or the general manager can make public comment about staffing matters.

The same issue has been raised on many occasions by several councillors who would like to see the roles of council engineer and systems manager publicly advertised if they are to be made permanent.

Molesworth resident Diane Cowburn raised the issue during public question time at the March council meeting, stating: "Two temporary appointments were made independently by the general manager early in his tenure in order to assist him. These positions were not advertised at the time. Those positions are remaining and I suggest 'temporary' is an inaccurate description," she said.

Acting general manager Mark Eady took the question on notice, saying a full answer would take three hours and a whiteboard. Deputy mayor Ben Shaw said the issue of the temporary positions had been raised by several councillors but had not been answered to their satisfaction.

Despite the indication that a lengthy answer would be provided to Mrs Cowburn, the agenda documents for the next council meeting included a statement that the acting general manager's response had been: "Neither councillors nor the general manager are permitted to make public comment regarding staffing matters."

Not satisfied with this response, Mrs Cowburn followed-up at the April council meeting. "I feel that the answer provided by Mr Eady to my question around temporary appointments was filibustering and that my question wasn't answered," she said. There is a danger of separation of powers here whereby a duly elected council can be overridden by management who have no specified code of conduct other than that signed under their conditions of employment. The general manager apparently has wide-ranging powers in line with council policy as per the Local Government Act (1993), Part 7, Section 62."

Mrs Cowburn continued: "My question is not about individuals or staffing matters in general, but specifically are these positions to be advertised, what constitutes 'temporary', and what roles are fulfilled by these positions?"

"It's still staffing matters," Mr Eady said, sotto voce, before mayor Martyn Evans responded that  staffing matters were in the remit of the general manager. "It's operational and it is staffing, which falls under the general manager, and he has the power to appoint staff in line with the budget," Cr Evans said.

"That's the same old same old, you've just dished up the same answer," Mrs Cowburn protested before being cut off by the mayor. "Thank you - that's my answer," he said. Mr Eady followed in a quiet voice, "That's the answer."

The issue of the two temporary staffing positions goes back to December 2015 when the general manager advised councillors: "To improve the efficiency of council, it is proposed that an amount of $150,000 be allocated for the purpose of revitalising the staff structure within council, with temporary arrangements being implemented for this financial year." Funding for three more full-time positions was included in the next budget (2016/17), with an expectation among some that the temporary positions would no longer be necessary. The temporary positions were still there a year later (2017/18 budget), when the council allocated a further $118,000) for staffing in the general manager's department, and with the 2018/19 budget now being drafted, the two temporary positions are still there, two and a half years after they were created.

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