A big summer break but your councillors work hard

By Stephen Mayne - Former City of Melbourne Councillor,

Being a City of Melbourne councillor can be a time-consuming job but one thing that tends to happen over the silly season is that you get a decent break from public meetings.

Summer has certainly been a frenetic time for councillors in bushfire zones and they’ve even received a modest pay supplement from Spring St given the huge workload to help rebuild their communities.

At City of Melbourne, the last public gathering was the December 10 council meeting and the councillors won’t be back together again in public until the Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting on February 4.

That’s a break of seven straight Tuesdays, but don’t worry, when it comes to public meetings, City of Melbourne councillors are close to the hardest working group in the country with three meetings a month for 11 months of the year.

There are still many councils across Australia which only meet once a month in public with all councillors attending, let alone have four separate 15 minute public question time sessions each month at the beginning and the end of the two FMC meetings.

So, what has been happening over summer?

In an election year, it’s no surprise that the biggest point of consideration has been the jockeying and juggling around who is contesting the 2020 elections. Everyone is remaining publicly tight-lipped.

However, deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood has continued to canvas support for a Lord Mayor tilt among councillors and potential media backers and, if he commits to the biggest challenge of his political career, would be expected to line up a ticket with the old Team Doyle rump comprising some but not all of Susan Riley, Kevin Louey and Bev Pinder.

I reckon it would be a mistake for Arron to run because it is time to move on from the Doyle era and incumbent Lord Mayor Sally Capp is doing a good job. There’s no substantial case for her removal. However, he’s giving it serious consideration.

The Lord Mayor is also believed to have been canvassing potential members of a Team Capp ticket and will want an injection of new talent with at least one incumbent on the team to demonstrate that she can work well with existing councillors. Nicholas Reece and Philip Le Liu are the two most likely incumbent councillors to get on board, but neither is assured or committed.

So, with council in recess, what else is there to write about?

As a former councillor, I thought we’d finish this month’s column with a couple of nuggets from days gone and some predictions:

CEO Justin Hanney
The new boss is performing well. In light of this, one of my biggest regrets is not poaching him from the state government for the job earlier in 2015 when he was available. Indeed, don’t be surprised if this class act CEO ends up emulating the great Elizabeth Proust who rose from CEO of City of Melbourne to secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet during the latter half of the Kennett era.

A new broom: The City of Melbourne executive ranks have long featured lots of long-serving officers. They are well paid too with 143 of them earning more than $148,000 from ratepayers in 2018-19, according to the 2018-19 annual report. They are the best paid council staff in the country, a trend which first emerged during Andy Friend’s period as CEO in the 1990s. Given this history, why would you leave? After a period of relative stability in the early months of the Hanney reign, he spilled a significant number of positions towards the end of last year. Never easy, but probably the right call to inject some new blood.

Citywide profits and leadership
Few people realise that Citywide is a business 100 per cent owned by City of Melbourne which provides a variety of services to councils, universities, state governments and the likes of VicRoads up and down the eastern seaboard. John Brumby was first appointed to the Citywide board in 2012, partly because then Lord Mayor Robert Doyle wanted to send then Premier Ted Baillieu a message after he overlooked the former Labor Premier for a position in the health sector. Brumby later succeeded Mark Birrell as Citywide chair in 2015 and has done an excellent job stabilising the place after the departure of long-serving CEO Kerry Osborne four years ago. The 2018-19 annual report reveals a pre-tax profit of $6.8 million on revenues of $235 million which was a solid result in a competitive operating environment.

Reducing pay disclosure
One disappointing development at Citywide was the decision to no longer precisely reveal the pay details of its board and management, something it did in the annual report from 2015 until 2018. CEO Chris Campbell is a former BHP executive who was paid 332k in 2015-16, 434k in 2016-17, 665k in 2017-18 and an undisclosed sum in 2018-19, although he was presumably the person disclosed as earning somewhere between $600,000 and $700,000 in council’s annual report. Council itself has also regressed on pay disclosure, no longer revealing the contract terms and precise pay arrangements of its five most senior officers in the annual report. If City of Melbourne wants to retain its position as one of Australia’s most open and transparent councils, it should avoid these sorts of regressions.

Dramatic drop in councillor motions: There was close to 150 motions from councillors over the previous council term from 2012-16 and I’ll confess to being responsible for around 50 of them. However, a little tweak of rules early in the current term saw this number plunge, partly because you now need two councillors rather than just one to get a motion on the agenda. That said, in an election year you should expect a few more councillor motions in the months ahead, provided the proponent can find a fellow councillor to back the proposal so it is listed for debate •

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