Richmond Valley General Manager John Walker was awarded, unanimously, close to a 10% pay increase by councillors at the April 16th meeting of council held at Coraki.
The resolution of council is shown in full below and consisted of a $14,000 pay increase on top of his estimated pay of $200,000 plus a 2.5% increment for a total pay rise of $19,350.
Walker left the meeting while the decision was made to award him the increase and Walker indicated to council, as indicated in the extract above, that he was prepared to have the matter considered in open council “if council was going to adopt the recommendation”.
The decision to have the matter considered in open council with the blessing of the GM avoided the possibility of challenge from the public gallery to the matter being heard in closed council, a challenge which has occurred in previous years. This headed off any possibility that the public record would show that there had been a challenge.
However the matter considered in open council covered the increases in pay only. If there had been any discussion about the GM’s actual performance and why councillors had decided that the GM should get the $14,000 discretionary increase on the basis of a “more than satisfactory” ranking, the matter would have had to have gone behind closed doors.
The Minutes indicate that the “General Manager advised that…..depending on how Council felt he had no objection to the matter being considered in Open Council if Council was going to adopt the recommendation [emphasis ours]…” however the Recommendation in the Business Paper was:
The Recommendation shown in the Business Papers (see first extract from Minutes above) would appear to be not the same as the Recommendation the GM referred to in his comment to allow the matter to open council but rather is the Recommendation for the pay increases subsequently agreed to by councillors and about which the GM must clearly have known prior to the meeting. The public was not privy to this recommendation prior to the meeting.
So the GM has allowed the public to know about the two increments to his pay and the “more than satisfactory” ranking by councillors, an improvement over previous reporting to council about the GM’s performance.
However the public is still kept in the dark about the nature of the GM’s contract and salary package and the performance criteria on which decisions about increments are based. While this is standard practice in local government and enshrined in legislation under the rubric of “personnel matters” under Section 10 of the Local Government Act there is really no good reason why such matters should be kept from the public. How else are we to keep our councillors and council accountable if they deliberately keep from us critical information.
“Accountability” and “Transparency” are the two main pillars of the Local Government Act. Neither are obliged in the current circumstance.
In the view of VWD the public should know the details of the contract of the General Manager and Senior Managers and the criteria which govern performance review. After all it is our money which pays the bills and we should know about how our money is being spent and why.
And why was the General Manager not prepared to have the matter go to Open Council “..if Councillors wished to discuss any issues..”?
As councillors agreed to rubber stamp ‘the recommendation’ unknown to the public until the open meeting of council, there must have been considerable discussion beforehand out of the public view which begs the more general question how much of council’s business is being discussed behind closed doors so that the public does not really know what council is thinking and doing.
In the view of VWD Council meetings are becoming ‘rubber stamp’ affairs, a worrying trend and not one likely to instill public confidence. This was amply demonstrated at the December meeting of council at Evans Head where a Mayoral Minute about Coal Seam Gas, the now infamous “Positioning Statement”, was introduced at the meeting without prior notice so that there could be no public comment.
A full meeting of council caucused just before the meeting about the matter out of the public view. In fact the public was kept waiting while this was going on. Was this the first time that councillors had seen the Mayoral Minute and The Positioning Statement? And what discussion was had at the secret meeting? Perhaps you need to ask your councillors those questions and ask where the Minutes of that meeting are recorded!