Full transcript of Interim Administrator's final Council address
As this will be my last Council meeting, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the time I have been with you as Interim Administrator.
I would to use this opportunity like to further clarify some of the changes that have been made recently.
When I first arrived at Council, I set out three areas in particular that I wanted to focus on over the course of my term – continuity of service, stable leadership and good governance. Thanks to the support of my Interim Management Committee and the outstanding leadership and hard work by staff within this organisation, I can truly say that I believe we have delivered on these priorities.
I'd like to highlight some of what I believe are the key achievements made during this time:
Firstly, the 2019-20 Budget. One of my top priorities was to ensure continuity of service for the residents of Logan. Handing down a nearly $1 billion budget on time (and just 7 weeks after my arrival), while also ensuring responsible fiscal management with a below CPI rate increase, was a major achievement in delivering on this priority. What this also enabled, was the uninterrupted delivery of Council's outstanding services and programs across the city throughout this time.
Next, is governance reforms. My aim in reviewing and updating Council’s policies and guidelines was to give the next incoming Council the best possible platform from which to successfully lead the City of Logan, and also to restore the community's confidence in those elected to represent them.
At our special Council meeting in December, I endorsed a large suite of new and updated policies and procedures covering areas such as fraud and corruption prevention, gifts, benefits and hospitality, information privacy, and Councillor expenses and entitlements. I have spoken at length about many of these changes over the past few months, and believe these and many other governance reforms will ensure a far more transparent and accountable way of doing business for the next elected Council.
Another of the significant achievements during this time has been a vastly improved focus on building capacity within our next elected representatives, so they can have every chance of success during their term.
Council will be delivering a comprehensive induction program and continuing professional development for all Councillors, as well as specialised training for Committee Chairs. All of this is underpinned by a new Decision Making Framework for Councillors that will empower them to make decisions with an open mind, and to make informed judgements based on evidence and fact, and in an open and transparent way.
As mentioned earlier, delivering leadership stability was one of my key priorities coming into this role.
Logan City Council had been subject to significant leadership disruption in the time leading up to my appointment, so for the wellbeing of staff and for the benefit of the city, I felt it was very important to bring stable leadership to Council. I wanted to ensure that residents and businesses could have confidence in my actions and decisions, and that the important business of Council would continue uninterrupted during this time – something I believe we have achieved.
I am also very pleased to have overseen the development of a new policy and framework to govern Executive Recruitment and Performance Management - in what I believe is a first for any Council in Queensland. I wanted to ensure that, moving forward, this Council had in place a best practice framework that supported all parties involved, including the elected representatives and the CEO.
Lastly, to the Kingston Butter Factory. Early in my tenure, I was asked to consider a change in the primary use for the Kingston Butter Factory redevelopment. I have been very careful in exercising my discretion over the past 10 months, however having observed the harsh economic realities of co-working spaces elsewhere in our region, I had confidence in overturning the previous Council’s position on this matter.
I believe this decision represented the best value for ratepayer funds, while also ensuring a much-needed arts and cultural facility could be delivered for the city under the guidance of a new elected Council.
Over the past few months, I have heard increasing public commentary and misinformation in regards to some of the reforms that have been introduced at Council. I would like to take a moment to address some of these in particular.
Firstly, to the former Divisional Infrastructure and Capital Improvement Project funds (or DICIP as it was known). It has been suggested by some that this almost
$48 million a term Councillor discretionary fund has been dissolved back into the consolidated revenue of the Council. This is not true. All the money from that fund will still be spent in the same program areas and for the benefit of the community as it was when administered through the former process.
Previously, projects were identified and put forward at an individual Councillors' discretion. The final stage process of ratifying these discretionary decisions through full Council was a formality at best.
What the new process is designed to achieve is a more strategic, planned and efficient spend of these ratepayer funds through the budget process, and that it is better informed by genuine priorities as well as taking Councillors' views into consideration.
Yes, there have been many valuable minor infrastructure investments delivered through the former fund - which will still be achieved under the new processes - but the ad-hoc approach to distributing funds throughout the year caused tremendous inefficiency. I'm still utterly astonished that essential infrastructure such as footpaths, gravel road improvements and traffic safety, of all things, was managed through a Councillor discretionary fund.
This process needs to have its foundations in evidence and identified priorities - and not be linked to fear and favour. The obligation that elected officials have in managing the spending of public funds is not just about delivering them transparently, but being seen to be doing this in a transparent way. Again, you just need to look at the current concerns about political interference in one particular federal grants process to understand the importance of protecting these funds from accusations of, dare I say it, pork-barrelling.
I implore the next elected Council to give this new process a go. Soon enough, changes to legislation will require a more community-consultative approach to developing the annual budget. Allocating minor infrastructure funding through the budget process will help ensure the community's needs continue to be met.
Secondly, I would like to clarify my decision about the Executive Powers of the Mayor.
But before I begin, I would like to correct some misinformation in the community about this delegation. Under the former policy the Mayor did not have the sole power to make a binding Council resolution on their own, and nothing about the new approach changes this. I have not taken any said "powers" away from the Mayor. All Council resolutions require the support of a majority of Councillors, and again, this is unchanged.
What is also unchanged is the ability of the Mayor to bring forward a matter for Council resolution outside of the scheduled committee and Council meetings. This can still occur.
What has changed, however, is the process by which these out-of-session resolutions can be made. Previously, the Mayor could simply walk door-to-door to a simple majority of the Councillors and garner the support required to make a resolution. This was all done outside of the transparency of a public Council meeting with the outcome not being brought to light until a subsequent Council meeting – effectively silencing any debate until after the fact.
My big problem with this mechanism is that it had the potential to undermine the transparency and integrity of the elected Council’s decision-making processes.
There were no rules governing the types of decisions that could be made using this process and I strongly believed it was not in the public interest to allow this to continue. Binding decisions by State and Federal governments are made in a public forum on the floor of parliament, not done on a piece of paper circulated hastily amongst those with whom the matter will be favourably considered.
Should circumstances now necessitate a Council resolution between meeting cycles, this will occur through the calling of a Special Council Meeting. There are provisions within the new Meeting Code that ideally will see such meetings called with some days’ notice, however in urgent or extenuating circumstances, these meetings can be convened in a much shorter timeframe - even within a matter of hours if required.
I would also like to point out that should a future Council contemplate reinstating the old process under the guise of "we may need it in an emergency", that the new Meetings Code already provides for rapid responsiveness in such circumstances including the opportunity for teleconferencing in elected representatives to the special council meeting to allow for full consideration by ALL councillors with appropriate opportunity for debate and discussion.
I would also like to point out that any urgent matters arising through the Local Disaster Management Group for instance, can be decided on rapidly by that Group in line with the legislative authority that rests with that committee and its Chair, who is the Mayor.
We cannot go back to the old days of decision-making behind closed doors. The community expects their new Council to be an exemplar of transparency and accountability in their decision making, and resolutions must be made through a proper meeting process.
Lastly, I would like to address some assertions being made that the policy reforms we have implemented during this time now hold Councillors to a higher standard than that of staff. When I have been speaking about these changes, my priority has been to highlight those areas that are specifically designed to give our next elected Council the best chance for success - we need to get those policies that directly relate to Councillors in the best shape possible - let's not forget the reason this Council is under Interim Administration.
But I want to be clear - the policy reforms also affect Council's staff. In fact, the majority of policies and procedures endorsed as part of the Transition to Council work have a direct bearing on staff.
On top of this, Council officers already work within a large framework of internal policies, procedures and their own new Code of Conduct that ensure high standards of accountability, efficiency and integrity.
Everyone in Logan City Council - from elected representatives, to the executive, to staff are all being held to the highest standards as they work together to serve the people of Logan with transparency, accountability and integrity.
Before I close my final Council meeting I want, briefly, to put on the record my thanks.
Thank you to the officers that every day serve this city with consummate professionalism and passion. They have displayed resilience in the face of significant change and disruption. They have continued to deliver the full range of council services without pause. They have provided me always with frank and fearless advice. I could not have asked for more.
Thank you too to the Executive Leadership Team — Silvio Trinca, Robert Strachan, David Hansen, Katie Barton-Harvey, Daryl Ross and Scott Bourke. Thank you for your understanding and sage advice as I navigated the complexities of local government — for your belief in me, your support and most importantly your trust.
I also want to acknowledge my Interim Management Committee, and in particular Gary Kellar and Brent Lillywhite. I have indeed been fortunate for their wisdom and guidance.
I want to make special mention of the staff of the Office of the Interim Administrator. Thank you for making me feel so welcome, for your hard work and importantly for your humour.
And finally, thank you to the many everyday citizens of Logan who I have been lucky to meet during my short time here. You have shown me every day what an amazing community and city Logan is.
None of us achieve in isolation and the achievement embodied in the work program we have delivered over the last ten months has been the result of our mutual cooperation and collaboration. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have worked alongside colleagues who understand how to bring the best out in each other.
So, with only 24 days until the election, the time has come to start looking to the future where Logan City Council will return to a full, democratically elected Council.
The job ahead for that Council will certainly be a big one, but they will have the benefit of a strong foundation of reforms that have been delivered and integrated here over the past 10 months.
If I could offer my advice to the public as we look ahead to the next chapter of this Council, it would be to hold your elected representatives to account. Wherever possible, join in Council's community engagement and have your say on the future of your communities and your city.
I’d also encourage you to learn more about the work of Council by downloading and reading the monthly committee reports, and watching these live-streamed Council meetings. The strength of our democracy is in people’s informed participation.
Logan is an extraordinary place with a wonderful and caring community. It has been a tremendous honour and privilege to lead your Council during this time of Interim Administration. This opportunity has exceeded my expectations in every way and I could never have imagined that this would in fact be one of - if not the - most rewarding, worthwhile and positive experiences I have had in my career.
I sincerely wish the next elected Council all the very best as they work together to lead Logan towards even greater success for the benefit of all who call this wonderful city home.