New councillors lose support

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NEW councillors elected to Mornington Peninsula Shire council will have half the support staff available to their predecessors.

Council CEO Carl Cowie told councillors last week, just before council elections, that two councillor support positions will be made redundant.

In an email, seen by The News, Mr Cowie said he had made a judgement call to make the council support team “even better” despite the loss of two jobs from a team of four female employees.

All four positions were made redundant and the staff involved have been told they can apply for the two new jobs.

“We have a great team of people here and we will keep improving,” Mr Cowie stated in an email to all councillors. “In the end, you pay me to make decisions and execute the council plan, sometimes the decisions seem tough, not right, sometimes it just takes time to see the fruits of the labour.”

Some councillors were surprised by the timing of the decision to axe two support jobs since there will be at least seven new councillors including first-time councillors – likely needing extensive help learn about their new roles in local government – as a result of the weekend council elections.

Just four councillors out of 11 in the previous administration – Antonella Celi, Bev Colomb, David Garnock and Hugh Fraser – decided to stand for re-election at this month’s council elections.

Departing mayor Graham Pittock said councillors had been told a new process may be put in place to support councillors that will involve personnel from other departments pitching in to help.

He expressed concern at the CEO’s decision to axe the council support staff.

“I hope he knows what he’s doing,” Cr Pittock said.

“The four-person council support team is disappointed. They did function well but obviously there’s another plan.”

Results from the 22 October council elections will not be known until 30 October at the earliest after a count overseen by the Victorian Electoral Commission.

Council elections are held every four years and, since so many councillors are stepping down, the shire faces an influx of councillors who may have no experience of local government or the administration of formal meetings.

Council support staff help councillors with correspondence received from ratepayers, organise councillor diaries to attend community events and act as a point of contact between councillors and council staff in various council departments.

Two staff members will have to look after 11 councillors during the next four-year council term after the redundancies which will be made next month.

While the councillor support team has only been together for “a couple of years”, Cr Pittock said two of the employees are long-time council workers.

The shire declined to answer questions about how much any redundancies would cost.

“Mornington Peninsula Shire continues to review the delivery of programs to provide the best level of service to our community and to ensure ratepayer funds are used as efficiently as possible,” Mr Cowie said in a statement.

“As part of this process, shire business units are continually looking for ways to improve their performance.

“It is not appropriate to discuss any specific staff circumstances.”

In his correspondence to the councillors, Mr Cowie said he valued their advice when discussing the council support team and other matters but ultimately: “Whether one takes the advice or opts to back oneself, that’s just an experiential judgement call and I’ll always do that, always trying to get the best result for the shire”.

Mr Cowie, born in Scotland, succeeded near 16-year predecessor Michael Kennedy as shire CEO in December 2014. Mr Cowie has a business finance background and there have been several staff redundancies since his appointment amid a restructuring of council’s operations.

First published in the Mornington News – 25 October 2016

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