MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire councillors are hiring a consultant to help review the performance and pay of CEO Carl Cowie.
The “suitably qualified and experienced consultant” is scheduled to start work on 1 April, a Sunday eight weeks before councillors decide whether to advertise the position or renew and renegotiate Mr Cowie’s contract.
The contract for shire’s top job – which comes with a salary package of more than $400,000 and a $30,000 study allowance – expires in November and Mr Cowie has to be told six months’ ahead if councillors intend to advertise the position.
The shire’s advertisement says the consultant chosen for the CEO review would work with council on “fulfilling its statutory responsibilities outlined in the Local Government Act 1989, concerning chief executive officer (CEO) employment matters”.
The ad is being run under the heading “CEO performance review, remuneration and appointment processes”.
While no consultant’s fees are mentioned in the advertisement, in the four years before October 2016 council paid former Kingston mayor Topsy Petchey $70,600 for advice to councillors and help with performance reviews.
The consultant is also being hired at a time Mr Cowie is facing criticism for not listing in the shire’s “gifts register” a Mediterranean cruise he took with his wife aboard a liner hired by high profile Portsea ratepayer, Lindsay Fox.
Mr Cowie says he does not have to list the seven-day cruise in July 2015 as he was on leave from council and it was made at no expense to the shire.
While Mr Cowie has called publicity over his trip “a distraction”, the mayor Cr Bryan Payne sees it as “a real topic”. A former municipal CEO, Cr Payne has told The News that he would not have accepted Mr Fox’s invitation.
While Mr Cowie is continuing to resist pressure from councillors to list the cruise in the gifts register, the councillors have decided to open the register to the public, albeit by appointment (“Opening the books on shire gifts” The News 6/2/18).
Meanwhile, the consultant being sought by councillors will help with:
- Annual performance reviews of [the] CEO, including assisting … with recommendations to council as a result of performance reviews.
- Review of remuneration and conditions of employment of the CEO.
- The process relating to the appointment of CEO.
The advertisement describes the consultant’s role as: “The successful consultant will work in close collaboration with the ‘committee of the whole’, CEO and relevant shire officers, and will be required to attend meetings at the shire’s Rosebud office. The service will commence 1 April 2018 and will not require the consultant to work full time; the time required will vary over the term of engagement subject to the requirements of council’s committee.”
As well as making the gifts register publicly available councillors have also called for a review of the “definitions” of words used in the Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Policy, an “internal document” that is also now publicly available.
A review of the policy by councillors and council officers is designed “to ensure that any ambiguity is addressed in a clear and meaningful manner,” Mr Cowie stated in a news release following last week’s decision by councillors.
Benefit, as defined in the current policy is defined in part as “something which is believed to be of benefit to the receiver” and can include accommodation and recreation trips.
A news release from the shire said making the gifts policy and register public would “ensure the organisation meets public expectations around transparency and the disclosure of gifts”.