Thursday 3 December 2009

Camera-shy CEO boldly goes where no Council chief has gone before

Cairns Regional Council's new Chief Executive Officer, on a salary equal to four Woree households, has welcomed the first ever Blogger into the hallowed Spence Street office.
There was no fan fare, no music, no secret police, no full-body searches, and no cameras. In an odd parallel universe, it was like Kevin Byrne in drag was in charge.
"I'm not really into photo opportunities," Lyn said graciously. However, it was I that wanted the photo opp. She's our new royalty after all. I wanted it to replace the one with Richie Bates and Janine Aitken on my fridge magnet. Begging for a photo doesn't befit anyone, so I let it go, for the time being. I felt like the Deputy Mayor at the opening of an envelope.

Newly-appointed Lyn Russell, takes the reins after a tumultuous period in Cairns local government administration, and she quite frankly looks way too relaxed for the in tray she's inherited.
It wasn't the time or the place to grill her on what she's going to do to clean the place up. I wanted to ask her when she was going to send Peter Tabulo out to False Cape with a shovel, and when she was going to pistol whip those that overturned and extended the contracts of her key managers by five years, just three days before she took office.
However, it turned out to be like a coffee with an old friend, without the coffee.
Lyn's demeanour and presence is very warm and way too relaxed for someone with 1,400 staff and a budget of around $320 million to keep an eye on.
We weren't alone. Kerrie Still, who lives up to her last name, greeted me in the executive suite lobby. Kerrie, not to be confused with the infamous Kerie Hull occupied the same role until the lawyers got involved. She came to the rescue to head the media and communications team from her Library manager's position, after months of this department without a head. Kerrie looks every bit your school Librarian: proper, respectful, appropriate and quiet. I think she's had years of experience telling others to 'shush'.
As I looked around the beautiful third-floor corner office, with windows up the Trinity inlet and to the South of Cairns, I saw the lovely furnishings that I helped pay for.
I sat on the very same couch that Kerie Hull used in the late hours, discussing tactics and plans last September, before Noel took her off his Christmas card list. Councillors Sno Bonneau, Margaret Cochrane and Alan Blake also spent many hours over a G n T on this very same lounge, consoled by Noel Briggs, the former CEO, that left office with the timing of a Shakespearean opera. I hope that couch has been dry cleaned.
Whilst our conversation was "off the record" I can tell my faithful readers that Lyn appears to be the most accessible Cairns CEO since the Jardine Brothers trekked north all those years ago and slaughtered all those Aborigines on Cape York.
Lyn is still getting used to North Queensland, and it's obvious she's going to enjoy her time up here. I think we will too. I told her that I moved here from New Zealand 10 years ago after working in Parliament.
"Oh, I'm sorry for you," she quipped.
"What? Working in Parliament or being a Kiwi?" I questioned. She assured me it was my service to the trans-Tasman government.
Lyn has only been in the role for just over two weeks, so I didn't ask her any big questions, however, she had plenty for me.
"What do the other media think of you Michael? I'm interested to know how they perceive you," she asked with a wry grin. It's a good question, and one I'm not entirely sure of the answer. I could have said, why don't you ask them, or, they think I'm wonderful. I have to say that I actively engage with the folk in ABC, 7 and Win news, and even some of the commercial radio. Daniel Bateman from the Post even said hello to me the other day, amid a dengue-fuelled press conference.
I think they may find it odd to have a blogger sneaking around and gate-crashing their parties, but generally they are a nice bunch who spend too much time on their make up. excluding Kier and Locco of course.
So it was Wagga Wagga's loss and our gain as Lyn Russell takes up her new role as Chief Executive Officer of Cairns Regional Council.
Her credentials bode well. As a human resources professional and executive with over 30 years experience, she has won many awards throughout her career including the titles of Telstra Queensland and Australian Women of the year in 1996, the Public Service medal for her services as Chief Executive Officer to the city of Thuringowa in 2006, and in 2009 she was awarded the title of LGMA NSW Professional Manager of the Year.
In 2007 Lyn was Deputy President of Local Government Managers Queensland and its North Queensland Director, she was also founder and former President of Women in Management in Queensland and has recently been appointed as a member of the new Regional Development Australia Riverina Committee.
She certainly has a presence, yet was enormously down to earth and engaging. Lyn is very keen to embrace the evolving social media landscape. It's clear now, that with Kerrie Still, they will move ahead and develop policy on how Council can embrace and work with the tools of the digital age. I would never have had such a discussion under the previous regime.
As we concluded, I left a parting gift with Lyn, a nice air freshener for her, I mean, our car. I must ask to loan it one weekend for a hot date.
"Here's a gift, as you've bought a breath of fresh air into Council," I said. "Oh thanks! Once I declare this on the register, I'll pop it in the car," Lyn said with a laugh and great enthusiasm.
I'd previously given all Councillors, along with the former CEO, and Sonja Anderson and Kerie Hull in the media team, a similar present. This followed the overturning of a blogger ban by Noel Briggs and Kerie, the then Communications Manager. It was a token of appreciation for the change, albeit slow, going on in Council in its relationship with new media.
However, Sonja wasn't impressed at my little symbolic gift. She harboured it on her desk for over two months, waiting for an opportunity to tell me who was boss. One day, her minders spotted me having a coffee with Councillor Forsyth in Council's courtyard cafe.
From her third-floor office, she marched down in her jack boots with a staffer at her side for protection.
"I can't accept this. I'm a professional," Sonja Anderson claimed, as she thrust the opened envelope on the table. "I can't accept gifts you know."
To say the Councillor and I were stunned, was an understatement.
"It's just a $3 air freshener Sonja," I replied. "You know, to welcome a breath of fresh air in this place."
She was not impressed, and repeated her claim. "We are not allowed to accept gifts. I'm a professional you know. I don't accept gifts," she said as she talked down to me like a naughty schoolboy, and then marched away all self-righteous.
It was a surreal moment. And so was meeting the lovely, engaging and warm Lyn Russell. It's my mission to get that photo with Lyn, if it's the last thing I do.


Oliver Redlynch said...

You'll have to be careful Michael, what with all these serious articles on the blog you may end up being a journalist yourself, with a greater audiance than the Cairns Post, and then have some media mogul will try and buy you.......

Bring back KB said...

Bring back KB !!!!!

there, I said it. Mike, you weren't even around to see KB kickin goals and crackin heads for cairns back in the day. Ok he's arrogant. He's still good at what he does. He would work well with Lyn I'm sure, having met them both (she'd keep him in line)
- And then we can petition him to arrange a public flogging for Bryan Law lol

CBD Warrior said...

I expect you'll be tearing her a new one inside six months.

Because ultimately you have no respect for anyone in authority, especially when you find out they've got no intention of hiring you.

The fridge magnet said...

I'm not ready to give up Richie and Janine yet, they make such a happy couple.

hieronymus bosch said...

i've heard that she will be going after you mike, but when do you know when to believe CBD Warrior?

CBD Worrier said...

I worry that nobody likes me, because nobody knows who I am, and I don't have any achievements, or interesting things to say. Sigh.

I know, I'll adopt an asinine name, like CBD Warrior, and broadcast bullshit all over the Cairns Blog. It's a great substitute for action, and it might make me feel better.

Blogster said...

Bring back KB, if Mike wasn't around to see "KB kickin goals and crackin heads for cairns back in the day" then obviously, that is too long ago to be relevant.

Miss Chief. said...

"Bring Back KB" - ye gods and little fishes are you a sadist? Be very, very careful what you wish for - Santa may be in a particularly bloody frame of mind. We've already got the Entsch who spoiled Christmas for our sins.

Dutchie said...

Mike, I am all too pleased to read that Lyn seemed relaxed. What could be wrong with that? To me, it means she feels in control, which is what we want.

Also, the Kevin Byrne in drag comment, was that necessary? I am not sure if this is going to help you to keep the lines of communication open. Or was this mean to be a joke?

I am glad to see that Lyn had a chat with you, it is indeed a good sign and it shows that she has her finger on the pulse.