Complaints at Moonee Valley

Tensions continue to be high at Moonee Valley Council with a councillor appearing to leave last night’s meeting hastily and posting an angry comment on Facebook after the meeting criticising four other councillors.

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The MVBlog didn’t cover last night’s meeting (apologies), but the final item has left me a little puzzled.

The motion moved by Cr Marshall was in two parts. The first part sought to check Council’s processes were in line with a recent report by the Local Government Inspectorate regarding CEOs’ contracts and performance reviews. The report can be found here.

I haven’t read the full report, but the final recommendations seem to be directed at the state government and its agencies, rather than councils, but there may be other recommendations councils need to follow up – particularly around the management of performance reviews. (The recommendations can be found below.) This seemed like a straight forward request.

The second part of Cr Marshall’s motion, however, was less clear. It sought specific processes for managing complaints against a CEO. As far as I can tell, this is not directly addressed in the Inspectorate’s report.

I’ve asked Cr Marshall if there was a specific complaint, and lack of appropriate process, that prompted the notice of motion, and she has replied: “In short, yes. There are some provisions under the LGA that could be applicable depending on the nature of the complaint (Division 4 of Part 4), there may be contractual obligations, code of conduct provisions and various other policies that could apply depending on what the complaint is. But at the moment, there is no clear process setting out how councillors must manage complaints coming to them about a CEO.”

It’s an interesting point, but also hard to know what sorts of complaints might not be able to be dealt with under the current complaint processes within Council, set out by the LGA, and the usual HR and contractual obligations.

As employers of the CEO, councillors do have access to a range of HR and legal advice about the management of the CEO’s employment, or any issue that arises.

There’s also a section of the Local Government Act that deals specifically with complaints about the CEO’s conduct with respect to bullying and harassment:

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The Act says that if the CEO becomes aware of a complaint, they must (a) immediately advise the Mayor about the complaint; and (b) at the next meeting of the Council, advise the Council about the complaint when the meeting is closed to members of the public. A probity officer can then be appointed and the complaint investigated.

It seems as though the LGA sets out a very clear process for managing any complaints of this nature made about a CEO.

For other complaints, like all Councils, MVCC has a process for managing residents’ complaints: it is set out on this webpage.

If residents are not satisfied with Council’s responses, they can escalate their concerns to the Ombudsman. Presumably, any complaints about the CEO that cannot be resolved directly with the CEO can be taken to the Ombudsman.

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Screenshot from MVCC website 

The Ombudsman is external to the Council and can stand outside the politics of any Council. The Ombudsman has wide-ranging jurisdiction with respect to decisions by the Council organisation (as opposed to political decisions by the councillors).

I’ve often contacted the Ombudsman about councils and state government bodies. I’ve found the service to be prompt, respectful, helpful and diligent.

As a councillor, I even contacted the Ombudsman with concerns I had about administrative matters at MVCC. The Ombudsman seems to be well placed to deal with concerns about CEOs – being external to the Council and duty-bound to manage issues with administrative fairness.

There are other bodies that also have oversight over Councils and the public sector administration: VCAT, IBAC, the Inspectorate, the Privacy Commissioner, VEOHRC, and more.

Councillors also have regular opportunities to raise issues through CEO performance reviews – although perhaps this is the part of the process that could do with improvement.

It’s not always the role of councillors to manage complaints about the Council’s administration. In fact, sometimes, Councillors are specifically prohibited from interfering – with respect to parking tickets, or staffing matters for example.

I understand and share the concern for clear processes and transparency. There’s never enough transparency when it comes to any level of government!

I’m just not sure I fully understand the deficiencies of the current complaint systems with respect to CEOs, or what exactly was being proposed – but I am not privy to the nature of the complaint that appears to have prompted this motion at Council.

It would be useful to have some further information to better understand what sorts of complaints might not be manageable within the existing processes.

 

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Recommendations from ‘Managing the Employment Cycle of a Council CEO’, Municipal Inspectorate

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