Controversial council run by acting staff following resignation

By Shannon Jenkins

January 14, 2020

Adobe Stock

The resignation of a director at Whittlesea Council has led to the council’s executive leadership team consisting solely of interim staff.

Community services director Russell Hopkins stepped down last week, less than a month after the Victorian government appointed Yehudi Blacher as an independent monitor to oversee the council.

Russell Hopkins

Blacher has previously served as deputy secretary in the Department of Premier and Cabinet and was a former administrator for the City of Greater Geelong. He was brought in following the sacking of Simon Overland as council CEO, at the request of the chief municipal inspector, who is investigating the council.

Overland is the third chief executive to be fired by the council in the last four years, amid ongoing allegations of a toxic workplace culture. Kelvin Spiller is currently acting in his place.

Meanwhile, Helen Sui is acting in the role of director of city transport and presentation. She was previously director of corporate services, which has since been temporarily filled by Amy Montalti. Julian Edwards is currently acting director of partnerships, planning and engagement.

Spiller recently told the Herald Sun the council would be making permanent appointments in the “immediate future”, and assured that things were under control.

“While it might sound unusual to have three directors in an acting capacity it’s not a challenge or a problem for us,” he said. “In a large organisation like ours at the middle management level there are lots of experienced managers so it’s just a matter of we rotate them around.”

Kelvin Spiller

“At this stage until I can just get an overview of what needs to be done and the timing it needs to be done we will be looking to resolve the permanency of the positions in the really near future.”

In the coming months, Blacher will assess the council’s processes and policies in relation to the appointment of the council’s new CEO; councillor interaction with council staff; the maintenance of a safe workplace; the handling of confidential information; the effective delivery of services to the community; and council decision making.

The council is being investigated over claims of bullying and workplace safety. An interim report about councillor behaviour will be delivered in March.

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