South Gippsland Shire Council has appointed an internal acting Chief Executive Officer to begin for a 12-month term on Tuesday June 25, 2019, the day after long-term CEO Tim Tamlin’s contract expires on Monday June 24, 2019 after 10 years of service.
Existing Shire Director of Development Service Brian Sword’s name was announced as acting CEO once the unexpectedly closed portion of a special (emergency) meeting of the council held on Wednesday May 8 2019 was re-opened to the public and shire executive staff after nearly 28 minutes.
Soon after the start of the meeting after calling for any staff conflicts of interest declarations, Mayor Cr Don Hill noted that when the matter about the acting CEO came up, he would be asking all executive leadership team members to leave the council chambers.
“Because of the nature of the confidential meeting regarding the acting CEO’s appointment I request that the CEO and directors not to be in attendance in order for it not to be obvious who has applied and who hasn’t applied, with applicants having to leave and non-applicants not having to leave the room,” he said.
It is also understood that there were confidential items within the applications themselves, further leading to the meeting’s closure.
None of the other applicants, internal nor external, were made public, with the Mayor saying, “no comment” to a subsequent direct question.
Mr Sword has worked for the shire for eight years, has been in the development service job for the past five years, and has on occasion, acted as the CEO.
In a statement from Cr Hill, Mr Sword was described as having, “been working for local governments for 20 years”, including the City of Hume and Melbourne City Council in Victoria and Western Australia’s Shire of Busselton.
He has tertiary qualifications in environmental management and public health.
Cr Hill went on to say that, “councillors are looking forward to working with Mr Sword once he assumes the position.”
Mr Tamlin was not re-appointed as acting CEO at an earlier meeting of the council’s CEO Employment and Remuneration Committee, even though he was the only applicant, on the grounds that a new direction was wanted.
Mr Tamlin has since been offered and has accepted a new position with a Victorian civil engineering contractors’ firm, for which he used to work before he started in local government, with his first day back on Tuesday June 25, 2019.
“I respect the position of the council, and accept the decision,” he said.
“Life goes on!”
Cr Ray Argento moved that Mr Sword be appointed and he was seconded by Cr Frank Hirst.
Cr Aaron Brown was the only dissenting vote on the basis that he had only been informed of the list of candidates one hour before the meeting, saying that, “I believe the entire affair has been rushed compared to the normal processes that are involved.
“I clearly state that this has nothing to do with the candidates selected; they are capable and competent, and my issue is with the process that has been undertaken,” he said.
“We have lost the moral authority to make such a decision at this time,” an observation that drew a little applause from the public in the chambers, prompting the Mayor to ask for, “quiet please, in the gallery.”
Others for the appointment were Crs Alyson Skinner, Rosemary Cousin, Steve Hirst, Steve Finlay and Mayor Don Hill, with Cr Andrew McEwen an apology and resigning Cr Jeremy Rich absent.
Exercising his right of reply, Cr Argento, said that, “all of the government process, while not ideal, were covered, and we followed the process as best we could,” and that, “an administrator can overturn any decision we make.
“This decision [to appoint an acting CEO] had been commenced late last year, and we’ve done everything correctly, according to our independent chair [of the council’s CEO Employment and Remuneration Committee] in the light of the Minister stating that we needed to continue with business.”
Cr Argento said, “the present CEO has done a fantastic job for this council and once again it’s democracy at play, when the vote [on Mr Tamlin’s application for acting CEO] didn’t go accordingly [to re-appoint him].
“I am quite confident that [Mr Sword’s] appointment will give a bit of surety to the staff and to our business leaders” and that he is a, “person who is well-respected among the community, among our peers and in government.”
NEW GOVERNANCE ACTIONS
At last Wednesday’s special (emergency) meeting, were two agenda items; one was the acting CEO’s appointment, and the other item, listed first on the notice paper as 2.1 New Governance Actions.
The item’s executive summary advised that, “council has reviewed the [Municipal] Monitor’s report and has been asked by the Minister [for Local Government Adem Somyurek] to identify how Council has responded to the findings of the Monitor’s report.”
The summary goes on to advise that the council’s 130-page response to the Minister’s show-cause notice to be submitted by the Thursday May 9, 2019 deadline would include the South Gippsland Good Governance Action Plan.
The Action Plan document would include, “Part 1: South Gippsland Shire’s commitment to the seven pillars of good governance, and Part 2, Actions taken and proposed for good governance.”
The recommendation to be put to the council included the re-endorsement of the Mayor and the direction of the council, and that the council, “commits to work civilly and respectfully for the benefit of the whole community.”
It also noted that the council, “has not received any formal bullying complaints in this term of office”, that it, “embraces a zero tolerance policy for bullying or inappropriate behaviours” and is, “committed to muse councillors’ code of conduct policy in all such situations.”
Other parts of the recommendation were that the CEO prepare training and support program and a local law review in line with the issues in the Monitor’s report, calling for a CEO report on establishing a “Good Governance and Integrity Audit Committee” and advisor.
Cr Skinner moved an entirely new motion that the council endorse the intent of the South Gippsland Good Governance Action Plan, with the action plan to be formally adopted once publicly released, and CEO-prepared training and support program to implement the action plan, along with its integration into the council plan and budget.
After being seconded by Cr Cousin, Cr Skinner said that, “during the remaining time, councillors have worked together to really reflect on, acknowledge and address [the Monitor’s and the Minister’s] concerns, and seek to provide further background information that the Minister may consider while making his determination.
“For today’s meeting I suggest we endorse the intent of the Good Governance Plan, and that we release that to the public once the Minister deems the document to be no longer confidential.”
Cr Aaron Brown spoke and voted against the motion, again saying that he had, “only received this document this morning” and had “not enough time to go through it properly.
“I’d also like to point out that we’ve already got the councillor code of conduct, the Local Government Act  and a variety of different measures that we need to comply with when we take our oaths of office, and already had significant amounts of training on various issues including governance,” he said.
“I question why the urgency to do this now.”
Cr Cousin said that, “a very positive way forward is needed by the community and the Action Plan sets out a significant number of very important missions, and while they can’t be disclosed yet, they address each of the pillars of good governance.”
Cr Skinner said, “we need to build trust between ourselves, the administration and the community and [the Action Plan] goes a long way in demonstrating our commitment to that.”
The motion was carried, six votes to one.