Six months into the new Clarence Valley Council’s (CVC) four-year tenure there are signs of significant changes to the way the council conducts its business.
At a meeting with the Independent, the mayor, Jim Simmons, acknowledged that “there is a need to improve council’s image … out there in the community”.
At last week’s council meeting, the result of Cr Jim Simmons’ first mayoral minute was tabled: Crest Performance’s preliminary review of the council’s organisation structure.
At the October 2016 council meeting, Cr Simmons wrote in his minute: “Before Council considers any further rate increases, over and above rate pegging, I believe that we need to review the organisation structure.
“Such a review is required within 12 months of an ordinary election by the LG [Local Government] Act. Now is the time to commence such a review.”
The mayor’s rescission motion to an extraordinary meeting in November put an end to the application for a rate increase; however, this was subsequent to the council expending funds on the IRIS community telephone survey, which sought views on a proposed increase.
The mayoral minute noted in its ‘key issues’ that the council had adopted a new organisational structure on the advice of Blackadder Associates in 2012, however, the mayor wrote: “My preferred option for an organisation review is to again seek external, objective advice, using an appropriately qualified and experienced consultant.
“The Review should look at areas where cost savings can be made and where higher levels of productivity can be achieved.”
However, at the December council meeting, former general manager Scott Greensill tabled a confidential report, and a recommendation that resulted in councillors (except for Cr Toms) supporting the engagement of “Crest Performance to undertake a preliminary [or ‘desktop’] review [not a full review] of Council’s organisation structure for the proposed fee of $9,500 (ex GST)”.
At last week’s council meeting councillors unanimously adopted, without debate (Cr Kingsley was absent), acting general manager Ashley Lindsay’s recommendation to “endorse the findings” of the review.
However, this decision only confirmed that the council’s executive staff system – a general manager and three departmental directors – was functioning efficiently, while considering whether or not to maintain the status quo, increase senior staff numbers or reduce directors to two.
Meanwhile, Crest Performance states in its review that a part of its brief was to “determine if there is significant evidence and sufficient political support to merit an extensive review of the current organisation structure to be undertaken”.
And, while the councillors’ decision means that CVC has fulfilled its statutory requirements, this aspect was not discussed, nor was any decision taken to act upon that aspect of the brief.
Mayor Simmons told the Independent that “the second part of the report, I believe, will be addressed – I’m not sure it will be wholly implemented – at upcoming workshops; and by the new general manager and the acting general manager”.
“I’m sure that it won’t just be put aside,” he said.
He said that one of three workshops – the first was held last Friday – would be attended by a representative from the Office of Local Government to “provide assistance [and or suggest] measures councillors need to put in place to address the operating results of council and the infrastructure backlog”.
“The council has operated at a substantial loss for every year since amalgamation; and the individual councils that were amalgamated, they probably would have operated at a loss, too,” Cr Simmons said.
Over recent years, Cr Simmons has not voted in favour of the council’s budget or operational plans, which he said is “going to make it very difficult for me, now that I am mayor”, and acknowledged that this year’s budget is unlikely to predict a surplus.
“Council has to address the losses continually incurred in its operating plan,” he said.
“They [staff] have to find $10million or $15million more; and that has to be found by increased income or lowering of costs.”
On the council’s public image and interface with the community, Cr Simmons said: “I’m confident that is going to change.
“I’ve spoken to the acting general manager and he’s of the same view that the council has to address that – I think there will be a lot willingness to [do so and] … a lot more open consultation with the community.
“There is no getting away from it; there have to be changes.”