Council ‘in tatters’ with probing questions about GM sacking on meeting agenda

There is a clear split between the Kyogle councillors – pictured on the left side are councillors Tom Cooper, Kylie Webster, James Murray, Maggie May and Rob Cullen. On the right side is Janet Wilson, Hayden Doolan, John Burley and Danielle Mulholland.

Susanna Freymark

This month’s Kyogle Council meeting is likely to be a fiery one given the agenda.

After the sudden sacking of Graham Kennett as general manager in December, the agenda for this month’s council meeting on February 12 is filled with questions and motions about the sacking of the GM and the appointment of a new one.

Councillor Janet Wilson wants the council to acknowledge the petition from residents signed by more than 1500 people.

The petition started after the dismissal of Mr Kennett and the illegal appointment of an interim GM which was addressed through a second meeting in December, Ms Wilson states in the agenda.

The petition is addressed to the NSW Minister of Local Government.

The petition has two parts:

1. To alert the council to the anger and disappointment of residents about the behaviour and secrecy of five councillors and the interim GM in the dismissal of a highly regarded GM. 

2. To advise the council that residents have made a formal complaint about the lack of transparency, disrespect by five councillors of the principles of government, workplace safety and disregarding the community Strategic Plan developed by residents with the council, and the budget by ignoring the budgetary issues arising from paying two GM payments without regard for how it will be paid . 

The residents are asking the minister to sack the current council, appoint an administrator and investigate the current council’s decision to sack the general manager.

Ms Wilson has another motion to be discussed at the meeting relating to the GM.

It is – That council does not move to appoint a permanent general manager and appoints an interim general manager for a period of 10 months.

Here is the rationale behind her statement:

“The mayor said in her comments during this difficult time that the next council would decide who would be the next GM. This is a prudent approach to employing new personnel approaching an election in September.

The council has already heard from residents through individual approaches and through the petition tabled seeking the dissolution of the council. The councillor body is now in a situation where residents have lost trust in the council’s ability to govern lawfully and appropriately. Residents don’t trust this council body to make decisions that reflect their values.

Staff have undertaken a vote of no-confidence in this council to provide a safe and stable workplace.

The image of the council as a high-functioning, well-managed council is now in tatters.”

 On the agenda are questions from councillors that will be answered at the meeting.

Ms Wilson is asking many questions. Here are some of them:

When was the interim GM first contacted in relation to this position, and who was it that first contacted him, and by what means?

When was the interim GM interviewed for the position, who was present, and where did the interview take place?

Councillor Danielle Mulholland submitted several questions with a lengthy background which you can read in full here.

Below is a summary.

“It has been suggested by many members of the community that the actions of the governing body may not have been in keeping with the Guiding Principles of the Local Government Act.

I have grave concerns about the legitimacy, transparency, communication and governance issues as outlined below.  

Councils should act fairly, ethically and without bias in the interests of the local community.

Councils should be responsible employers and provide a consultative and supportive working environment for staff.

Council decision-making should be transparent and decision-makers are to be accountable for decisions and omissions.”

 Ms Mullholland goes on to state her concerns.

“It appeared that when this motion (sacking Graham Kennett) was put, with the mayor reading from a pre-prepared script, the mayor and deputy mayor Tom Cooper had pre-emptively recruited an interim GM with no existing mandate from the elected body. 

Councillors James Murray, Rob Cullen and Maggie May were aware that the matter was to be put as urgent business and that councillors John Burley, Janet Wilson, Hayden Doolan and myself were not aware that this matter was to be raised. No information regarding the interim GM was provided to the four Councillors prior to the motion being put.

This raises concerns about good governance and open and transparent communication between the elected body and the broader community.

Despite that, the mayor ruled it to be of great urgency, there were no grounds identified upon which the matter required a decision by the council before the next ordinary meeting of the council on February 12 as required by the Code of Meeting Practice.” 

Ms Mulholland also wants the costs of sacking Mr Kennett to be answered. His termination package was $330,000.

Ms Mulholland’s agenda questions are:

What is the detailed breakdown of the total additional cost to the 2023/2024 budget for the termination of the former GM and the appointment of the interim GM? 

What provision has been made to meet the budget shortfall, and where will this money come from?

What personal liability exposure do the mayor and the four other councillors who passed this resolution in breach of the Code of Meeting Practice and Local Government Act have? 

What is their potential exposure to a class action from ratepayers to recover from them individually or collectively the $330,000 paid to the former GM following the termination of his employment, and any other costs that may have resulted?

How many hours, and over how many days, has the interim GM spent in the council offices since his initial appointment on December 11, through to the response to this question, and was he paid the full contract rate of pay during this period?  Why has this information and the employment arrangements not been provided to all councillors?

Read the story about interim GM leaving the job here.

Read the agenda for the Monday, February 12 meeting at 2pm at Kyogle Council Chambers.

The public can attend council meetings.

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