2013 depa HR Awards

We name the worst councils

It’s one of depa’s core values that people should get what they deserve.

Nothing exemplifies this more than our annual HR Awards. Described last year as allowing members and others to screen prospective employers and intended to identify bullying, boofheadedness, infamy, incompetence, duplicity, opacity, hypocrisy and general nastiness, we should really stop beating around the bush and say what we mean.

Like the boring bit in the Academy Awards when someone has to read out how the voting and the auditing of the voting process operates, everything needs good governance and we need to be as transparent as anyone else. Sometimes, more so.

Our diversified Panel judges folly and infamy across the industry without fear or favour, in a reasoned, disciplined, rational, debated and almost scientific way.

Bankstown won it in 2009 and, very slow to learn, also won it in 2010. They have made some changes (including one big one) and have learned from the experience. Greater (sic) Taree won it in 2011 but hasn’t been a contender since even though too many good employees voted with their feet and went elsewhere. Lismore won in 2012 and the GM at Lismore bit the bullet, immediately fixed the then current dispute (and was properly recognised by us for doing so in the January depanews) and then made structural changes in HR and resolved the problem. Well done and good riddance, respectively.

There are some councils knocking on the door of nomination who don’t get nominated in the 2013 awards but have good prospects for the future. Warringah doesn’t understand its Award obligations on how the consultative committee operates and thinks the consultative committee operates just like other Council committees - which, of course, it doesn’t. Council committees are established and get their authority by delegation from the Council under the Local Government Act and the Consultative Committee doesn’t. The Consultative Committee is established under the Local Government State Award and gets its authority from the Award, and the Industrial Relations Act under which the Award is made. So, it’s not appropriate to throw a union delegate out of the consultative committee if an issue is to be debated affecting that employee. We’ll fix that next year.

And Eurobodalla really needs to have someone read the Award and understand it. The GM and the HR Manager for a start. Next year, perhaps.

2013 has thrown up a whole range of new contenders. Thrown up, both metaphorically and literally and a review of depaNews over the year presents our worthy candidates in chronological order.

Getting Farooqed at Liverpool 

The dispute about restructuring at Liverpool, the spilling of director and manager positions, the replacement of five directors with two Executive Directors and 22 managers with 10 Group Managers saw people made redundant, a push to get people better politically-aligned with the new philosophy after the September 2012 election and a move to put the third level of management on the rigid and uncompromising DLG Standard Contract for senior staff. All of which happened.

We owe a vote of thanks to GM Farooq Portelli at the very least for the introduction into local government of the new verb “farooqed” (not a very nice experience) and the GM figured heavily in our March issue. And to the Mayor Ned Mannoun for boldly boasting to developers at a UDIA breakfast that they wanted all the management team on term contracts because it takes too long to sack people otherwise.

This turned out to be a canny move because after appointing Matt Daniel as one of the Executive Directors with the responsibility for building, planning and environment, (someone who as a Liberal Party mover and shaker at least satisfied the requirement to be politically compatible) the Council sacked him two weeks later. The Liverpool City Champion on 1 October 2013 announced “Liverpool Council sacks Liberal power-broker Matt Daniel” but the reasons for his exit, and any potential terms of settlement, were unclear.

The Council claimed he failed to disclose he was a bankrupt and Mr Daniel claimed he had. Uh oh …

We wonder who got paid what and would ask the GM himself except all the questions we asked during the dispute about the restructure were ignored, evaded or misunderstood to allow them to be ignored or evaded.

Maybe Farooq should have left well enough alone.

Rating: F-

Ballina goes feral - it’s time to bring back the pineapple cake 

Ballina GM Paul Hickey is not your pineapple cake kind of bloke but was keen to do some financial slashing and burning. He was also a real zealot about stripping the nine day fortnight. We had two disputes with Ballina over Paul’s decisions - one trying to remove the concession leave at Xmas/New Year and one trying to remove the nine day fortnight from a parent returning to work.

We kept the concession leave with improved governance by keeping records of the additional time donated by staff to the Council to earn the three days off and we kept the nine day fortnight, initially on a six-month trial but now rolled over.

Why bother would be a good question? At Ballina in the health and environment area there is a team of four mothers all working different hours and days but cooperatively working those arrangements to ensure that services are provided and that there are no gaps. It works perfectly, seamlessly and undetectable it. Why would anyone bother to interfere in such competent and effective teamwork?

Paul even made it into Robbo’s Pearls because we really do feel sorry for old blokes trying to manage women who go and get pregnant and then want to come back to work. What next. And wanting to come back to work in a way that suits their family needs. Imagine that.

Rating   F.

Nambucca remarries first wife - after humiliating and expensive divorce 

The general boofheadedness and stupidity that gets a council a nomination also provides us with such great opportunities for headlines and graphics. Where would we be without the stupid decision-making? A dull December issue - when we are closing and going to be on holidays, the astonishing but predictable advice about the fees not going up again and a picture of Santa, that’s where.

GM Michael Coulter’s messy and embarrassing 2012 restructure was abandoned in 2013 to reinstate the structure that had existed before that clumsy, poorly conceived and planned exercise. Good staff lost, the folly of a structure that lasted only a little over a year and then in 2013, five weeks after the Council resolved to adopt one structure, they make further amendments to spill a few more jobs and reveal a Council with limited medium or long term strategies.

Already identified in the TCorp analysis and by the Independent Review Panel as being “Weak or Very Weak” and with a “Negative Outlook”, they couldn’t have just been talking about their financial position.

Rating:   F.

Sack this Council - there is nothing fair about Fairfield 

Fairfield figured prominently in depaNews over the last part of the year.

In July we teased that there might be an early favourite for our HR Award and recorded our amazement at “the number of miscreants, sociopaths, people-haters and venal simpletons who find their way to HR and management”. We didn’t identify the Council but identified five significant problems that made this Council an early favourite:

  • Fought the LGEA by contesting their claim that 18 engineers should get the Civil Liability Allowance and when the Commission looked at it, the 18 got it! And they spent more than $50,000 in legal costs to fight it - and the loss of productivity and the exercise from the cost of the reduced morale is incalculable.
  • A Director of Corporate Services with anger management issues who shouted at representatives of the unions at a Consultative Committee meeting, telling them that they knew nothing about industrial relations, he was the only expert because he had done it for five years (when there were delegates there who had done it for decades and gee, five whole years) and when his boorish and boofheaded behaviour found the Council in the Commission and he was caught out, “apologised” in a smug and self-important email that satisfied no one and, of course, wasn’t game to turn up in the Commission himself anyway.
  • As part of a restructure made a couple of USU members redundant and then tried to cheat them out of the 1 July Award pay increase. Unsuccessfully, of course.
  • One of the only councils in NSW to not have a policy regulating contact between councillors and staff when implicit in the Code of Conduct is that councillor contact should only happen consistent with the policy.
  • Suspend two employees, have an “independent” investigation conducted which, when it didn’t provide the result they wanted, referred it to a barrister for review to try to pick it apart so they could set it aside. Their independent investigation with their chosen investigator, should be enough.

In the August issue we announced "John and Stephen are innocent!and a call to sack the council because there was nothing fair about Fairfield. This followed the barrister’s review of the report by the independent investigator which cleared our two members of any wrongdoing and pointed the finger above the level of our members - still at the Council, possibly a little bit more grumpy, but still at the Council nevertheless. Conservatively, this exercise, even leaving aside lost productivity for all the players involved, with the costs of an independent investigator, more money to a barrister, time in the IRC and a general poisoning of relationships with associated reductions in the morale and productivity, cost the Council close to $100,000.

The Council agreed in the Industrial Relations Commission to introduce the policy and procedures we had been pursuing, with the support of the other two unions, arising from this dispute. They did this by simply writing into a policy and procedures the current practice - namely, that councillors could continue to contact around 80 identified staff, however they liked, without any written record, without any record of the reasons for the contact, no requirement to disclose the purpose of the request and this could all be done verbally, over the phone, or whatever. And the Mayor didn’t even have these “restrictions” because he could contact everyone.

And the Policy didn’t deal with the problem everyone knows exists at Fairfield of councillors (particularly the Mayor, whoever that may be from time to time) calling people up with limited notice to the Councillors' Room, without specifics and forcing them to defend a decision taken on illegal building, or breaches of environmental protection, or unacceptable food premises while the complainant/illegal builder/environmental criminal/potential poisoner of the community, sits angrily or smugly and watches.

And the proposed policy and procedures were drafted at a Councillor Workshop and then held for a couple of days to maximise the inconvenience for the three unions who would need to respond before they were considered at the next meeting of the Council. Just as well someone slipped us a copy the day after the Councillor Workshop.

The fundamental problem though, as bad as all these problems are, is that the policy and procedures don’t provide any role, or any other mechanism to allow senior managers to be aware of how much of this is going on, what it’s for and whether the request made by councillors for leniency, reviews, taking it easy and the rest of it, are a breach of the Code of Conduct. The four monkeys, seeing no evil and hearing no evil typifies the GM and the three Executive Directors perfectly.

As does this: get your head out of the sand.

Next we had an issue where a Councillor contacted someone not on the list. We know when it has been open slather that making changes can be difficult and a councillor contacted a member of ours not on the contact list. We wrote to GM Alan Young suggesting that this could be a breach of the policy and procedures and wondering what he was going to do about. An immediate note to councillors asking them not to do it again, would have done.

What he did about it was to treat it as a complaint alleging a breach of the Code by that councillor. We objected to this because that was not our intention and we made that clear, over and over again, in a long and tedious email trail. But regardless of how often we denied it, the GM went ahead with his own investigation and found that there was no breach of the Code. We didn’t ask for this to happen, we didn’t want this to happen, all we wanted was the GM to get his finger out and remind councillors that they have a contact list and that people not on the contact list are never to be contacted.

The funny thing is, the GM did what we wanted almost as soon as we wrote the first letter to him but didn’t provide us with a copy of the advice to councillors, as we had requested many times, until the bitter end.

Finally, we discovered that in the past (maybe a decade or more ago) there was a form which need to be completed by councillors if they wanted to contact staff. They needed to identify the reason for the contact and what they were seeking and we suggested to the GM that this made sense. We had already identified 10 examples of unacceptable Councillor behaviour and making councillors write-down why they want to contact and potentially intimidate staff may help.

But the GM said no. So we will keep our own records and, depending how it goes, deliver them to the ICAC in a bundle when we get a critical mass.

A little bit more protection for staff would have been nice. There is a strange and compelling irony in the coincidence that our announcement that Stephen and John were innocent happily coincided with the Federal Court finding that there is an implied “confidence and trust” in any employment relationship. Bugger all confidence and trust at Fairfield when the GM and the next level of management simply don’t want to know and don’t care.

Grade:    impossible to grade. Where do you go after F-?

And the winner is:

Fairfield GM Alan “don’t tell me, I don’t want to know” Young

Really, how could this prestigious Award be given to anyone else? No sympathy or support for the two employees wrongly suspended; no acknowledgement that rejecting the findings of the first report which cleared them and named someone else should be reviewed; no policy on protecting staff in interactions with councillors and then, when forced to adopt one, adopting a policy so flawed, it defeats the purpose; no interest in knowing what’s going on as he bobs along on top of the organisation unaware of how often and for what purpose councillors are contacting staff and no interest at all in providing a little bit better governance by making the historic form a joint initiative by both the Council and depa.

And when one of the innocent employees resigned after more than 10 years and fled to Cobar (Fairfield’s loss is Cobar’s gain), neither the GM, nor the Executive Director came to say goodbye or wish him well. Shame on you, Alan.

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