What next for sacked NSW councils? GMs offered way to stay

By Stephen Easton

Thursday May 12, 2016

NSW Premier Mike Baird (left) and Local Government Minister Paule Toole announced the creation of 19 new councils in NSW during a press conference in Sydney, Thursday, May 12, 2016. Dozens of councils have been sacked and 19 new ones created under the NSW government’s controversial amalgamations plan. (AAP Image/Stefanie Menezes) NO ARCHIVING

UPDATE: Minister confirms council mergers won’t leave top executives jobless

New South Wales council general managers who miss out on interim jobs at the helm of new merged councils might be able to stay to the end of their contracts as deputies, to avoid saddling ratepayers with the cost of paying out their entitlements.

It still isn’t entirely clear what will happen to all of the GMs of former councils in the musical chairs style process of naming interim bosses for the 19 new councils the state government has announced so far, and nine more that could emerge following legal challenges.

But it appears that rather than being out of a job — which could make the new councils liable for compensation of up to 38 weeks’ pay in some cases — some at least are being brought across to the new merged councils as deputies until their contracts end.

A proclamation about senior staff positions that was published online by the government and distributed by Local Government NSW to its members yesterday has now been removed. Another proclamation that remains online, however, confirms that interim GMs who were previously council GMs will retain the same employment conditions, and same goes for deputies:

“If a person appointed as a deputy general manager was, immediately before the amalgamation day, the general manager of a council, the person has the same rights and entitlements (apart from the person’s position) as if the person were a senior staff member who was transferred to the new council under this Proclamation.”

The newly created Cumberland council’s GM Merv Ismay and deputy GM Mark Brisby were both heads of councils — Holroyd City and Auburn City respectively — that merged to create the new government body.

Five former councils gave way to form two new councils in the area — the other being the new City of Parramatta, with Greg Dyer staying in the CEO’s chair — but the proclamation creating those two new ones does not mention the former top executives of the other two former councils, The Hills Shire and Hornsby Shire.

The situation of having one former boss under a new boss who was previously leading a neighbouring council organisation — with comparable salaries — could challenge the “effective and appropriate organisational leadership” that Department of Premier and Cabinet deputy secretary Simon Draper said would be “central” to the success of the mergers, in a letter to GMs last month.

There is growing disquiet about the process by which the NSW Government has pursued the mergers, which the Opposition has sought to capitalise on by making the extraordinary promise to reverse the whole process if it wins government at the next election.

Sacked councillors are also making their anger felt. Former Leichhardt mayor Darcy Byrne told his Facebook followers:

“A hand picked Liberal Party Dictator has been appointed by Baird to rule the Inner West for at least 18 months.

“I can announce that myself and the Mayors of Ashfield and Marrickville will form an elected Mayors Council to stand up for and protect our communities for as long as this dictatorship lasts.”

Mergers have created 19 new councils by sacking 42 groups of elected local government representatives and appointing administrators in their places until new elections on September 9, 2017. Mergers to create nine more are proposed by the government but subject to legal challenges, and 14 proposed mergers will not happen.

LGNSW is not at all happy with how the process has been handled and believes its constituents “have every reason to feel betrayed but the whole sector should focus on ensuring the speedy return of genuine grassroots representation”. President Keith Rhoades said in a statement:

“The process itself has been one long litany of mistakes and miscalculations and dubious dealings by the Government, and it’s telling that both [the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal] and now the Boundaries Commission have felt compelled to disassociate themselves from the political decisions being made.”

“If it wasn’t for a range of vehement campaigns by grassroots communities and the local government sector, the Baird Government would have bulldozed through an even more extensive and undemocratic reform process long ago.

“You can’t pretend it’s not inherently political when the only councils to escape amalgamation are those that happen to fall into marginal federal electorates in the middle of an election campaign.”

While Rhoades expressed strong opposition to the decisions, he also advised all councillors to work to “restore ‘business as usual’ as quickly as possible, so the complex and costly task of merging two or more councils into one entity does not disrupt communities any further”:

“I would urge any former councillor or former Mayor who was democratically elected by their residents and ratepayers to keep the interests of those people to the forefront, and to work towards the re-establishment of local democracy and representation.

“… I’m confident that the transitional committees, Government-appointed administrators and interim general managers will do their absolute best to make the change as smooth as possible, and I urge them never to forget the importance of local democracy and representation in their roles.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Parramatta City and Cumberland councils as a single entity.

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