Friday 27 November 2009

Councillor Robert Pyne: "It's business as usual for Mayor Schier"

Cairns Division 3 Councillor Robert Pyne, presents the final part in his debate that he started in his CairnsBlog SoapBlog, last Saturday, and part two on Tuesday.

Robert discusses the role and influence Councillors and staff have, and their ability, or lack thereof, to make a difference in the community. He questions who really runs the show.

As recently as early November, there was every reason to believe the appointment of new Cairns Regional Council CEO Lyn Russell, would usher in the sort of ‘cultural change’, that people were looking for at the local poll back in March 2008.

The election of five new Councillors and a new Mayor, did not usher in that change, but when you add to that a new senior management team, this was the opportunity to look at many issues anew. Particularly, issues around development, the environment and planning for our future growth in a much more enlightened way. Things like managing development applications on that strip of land between the Captain Cook Highway and our northern beaches, was just one area where people were crying out for a new approach.

It was on the cusp of this opportunity for change that my hopes and those of others were poised.

Enter centre stage, Councillor Margaret Cochrane. Margaret advised all councillors that she had become aware of another area where former CEO Noel Briggs had ‘dropped the ball.’ He did not contract, at least in any formal sense, the three general managers whose contracts were coming to an end.

Under their employment contracts, Council should have commenced negotiations with them on their future. The upshot of this slip up, was that it became apparent that Peter Tabulo, Bruce Gardiner and John Hawkes were only ensured of another 18 months employment with Cairns Regional Council.

Hawkes was clearly short on the numbers. I had no problem with John, but I owed him nothing either. My efforts to get the nod on a few projects on the Southside had cut no ice with him, and there was enough talk of structural inefficiencies in Works and Services that I was convinced there must have been some truth to it.

Having been dismissed by Council before, after my father Tom became Mayor following the Cairns/Mulgrave amalgamation, there was just a touch of déjà vu involved. That said, I still maintain having John there for the 20 months from March 2008, was no bad thing. Stability in that arm of Council was important in the post-amalgamation restructure. While John was ‘negotiated out’ of Cairns Regional Council, the immediate decision on Tabulo and Gardiner was not to agree to an extended contract or to hasten their departure.

People need to understand that under the new Local Government Act, former Minister Warren Pitt, had made a legislative change that meant all general manager positions would henceforth be appointed, not by elected Councillors, but by the CEO.

I personally believe Pitt was wrong to make this change. To this day I believe Warren Pitt’s personal friendship with Noel Briggs lead him down this path. However, for the purpose of this discussion, CairnsBlog readers should be aware that at this point in time, the new Act was not yet in operation and it was just one short week before the new CEO arrived in Cairns.

It was shortly after this, Deputy Mayor Margaret Cochrane advised she felt we had not made the right decision and that Tabulo and Gardiner should both be employed on new five-year contracts.

So, the matter went back to Council. In a lengthy and at times heated debate, in closed session Council discussed the future of Gardiner and Tabulo.

While I do not personally believe in ‘closed session’ discussion, the fact I stayed, and engaged in the debate, precludes me from stating the positions and comments of individual Councillors. What I can say, is that I did support the argument that no general manager should be re-appointed on any basis whatsoever, prior to the commencement of the new CEO. As these individuals are usually signed up on four or five year contracts, for a salary in excess of $250,000 per year, it is hard to explain the argument we needed have their personal well-being at the front of our thinking.

The line put by the other side, went as follows.

"If we don’t sign them up now, they will walk. We are so lucky to have them. 18 months will not secure their services, they need to have tenure, not just for themselves, but for the morale of them and their staff, who look up to them so much.”

I am not afraid to say I offered the alternate position. Having received many calls from staff from Cairns Water complaining about everything from human resource management to tendering procedure, I was not afraid to put this position. The point I was keen to make, and was strongly supported by Councillor Kirsten Lesina, was that we had a new CEO starting in less than one week.

Under the new Act, it was she who had authority to appoint these positions. By contemplating making new appointments, we were effectively ’pulling the rug from out under Lyn Russell before she had even started. It was apparent the vote would be close.

When Council moved into ‘open session’, Councillor Cochrane’s motion, to employ both Peter Tabulo and Bruce Gardiner on five-year contracts was moved. The hands of those in favour went up: Margaret Cochrane, Paul Gregory, Sno Bonneau, Linda Cooper and Nansky Lanskey extended their hands, and to the casual observer they seemed one short, as Alan Blake was not with them, but looking ahead, Val Schier’s hand was extended.

She had done what she had done so many times before and ensured ‘business as usual’ at Cairns Regional Council.

It is interesting the amount of times Kirsten Lesina in particular has voted with me on these issues, but never will she fail to back up the Mayor or rationalise the way Val Schier votes on any given issue. I on the other hand, seem to be fair game to her and Councillor Diane Forsyth.

While I hope I do not sound bitter, bent or twisted, I do respect Cochrane, Gregory and Bonneau for their consistency. The fact Lesina and Forsyth will always rally to the side of the Mayor, whatever her position, is all the evidence I need to reconfirm my belief in the cancerous effect party politics has at local government level.

It looks set to be a long few years ahead, particularly for myself and the non-aligned but progressive Councillor Julia Leu.


Oliver Redlynch said...

Well on one thing I do agree with you Rob, party politics does have a cancerous effect on local government. Perhaps you should reconsider running for the top position, coz god help us, Cairns will no longer be worth living in should Kevin return (see above).

danny betros said...

What exactly is your motivation for putting all these thoughts on the Blog? You sound disillusioned,disappointed,unloved,unmotivated,bullied and doing a lot of moaning because you now realise that some of the Council Managers see you as a lightweight.
You are moaning more than my kids.
Welcome to Politics local style- harden the .... up!!Do what's best for Cairns.
If you're that passionate then yell out more otherwise resign and get lost.Local politics is obviously not for you./
Stop throwing rocks at people over the fence via these mediums.You want to be loved by everyone and not make any hard decisions. Mate you are there to make decisions -easy and hard ones.Not everyone will always agree with you. Ask your father.
You need to realise as do some of the other Councillors that until you write a whole new Town Plan there is FA difference you can make to the direction and appearance of Cairns.
Lisina,the Mayor,Forsyth and Leu vote together on everything, they are just sheep who are afraid to take an individual stance on issues.Are you surprised? I doubt if any of them understand the Town Plan anyway.
Let Lynn Russell settle in, hopefully she will make a diffrence.

nocturnal congress said...

Yes, Rob, party politics is "cancerous", deadly as you put it. Your father was a member of the ALP and killed Cairns with his cancerous leadership, no sarcasm intended, just agreeing with you.
Yes, I agree with you again. It is just bad, so bad when Lesina, Leu and Forsyth vote with the Mayor.
I mean Gregory, Cochrane, Bonneau, Blake, Cooper, Lanskey and yourself NEVER never can get anything up on the Council floor. You're defeated through sheer numbers all the time.
Ohhhhhhh, the horror of it all.
(Ever learn to count at all???)
Let's see:
Mayor Shier plus Lesina plus Leu plus Forsyth = 4 VOTES
Blake, Cooper, Cochrane, Lanskey, Gregory, Bonneau, Pyne = 7 VOTES

Thaddeus said...

Oh spare us! Two blubber-gutted, heart-attacks-waiting-to-happen old farts, Entsch and Byrne want to re-run for public office. Both have been CEOs of construction companies, earning big dough, but the gluttonous pair of has-beens want their noses in the public feeding trough again. Oh, they will both give sleazy spin about how they "could earn more in the private sector" but feel they have a "duty to..." (look after their mates..). Oh, spew!!!
This pair of egotistical, self-serving jelly-gutted wrinkled up old farts swallow packets of Viagra
just to hang right in their trousers. Why don't they piss off somewhere, and take their ugly mugs into a Retirement Village where they can lord it over all the geriatrics there.