Maranoa Regional Council
Maranoa Regional Council

‘CRUEL’: Councillor pleads with mayor over concerns of staff wellbeing

Less than three weeks after the majority of councillors voted to discuss the future of 350 council employees at a meeting in early 2021, Mayor Tyson Golder has urgently pushed to have councillors deliberate the major restructure to council at a cost of at least $1 million to reflect an operating structure to that of the region’s shire council pre-amalgamation in 2008, before Christmas.

A Special Meeting on Thursday, December 17, came less than two weeks after the majority of council voted to move forward with the proposed organisational restructure consultation phase next year when councillor Cameron O’Neil pleaded with his colleagues to not rush through the major decision.

The concerns of putting unexpected pressure on staff meant even council CEO Julie Reitano spoke out to the councillors at the November 25 meeting about her concerns of putting staff under extreme stress to have months of work completed within seven days.

In a meeting just eight days out from Christmas and with some councillors and staff away on Christmas leave, Cr Golder moved with Cr Mark Edwards seconding a motion council move into Stage 2 of the employee consultation based on the mayor’s proposal of the organisational structure.

Preliminary Organisational Structure Based on Mayor’s Proposal – In preparation for Stage 2 of the Employee Consultation (Detailed Stage).

1. Council formally receive the draft detailed organisational structure document based on the mayor’s parameters; and as distributed to council on December 11, noting that the document would be formally considered again on Monday, December 21.

2. Note the initial table summarising possible impacts on various groups of employees and authorise the Chief Executive Officer and relevant officers to undertake preliminary discussions with relevant employees.

3. Approve the limited use of the draft detail of the organisational structure to assist with the preliminary discussion with relevant employees.

4. Authorise the Chief Executive Officer or delegate, to provide a progress update to the relevant unions and provide a copy of the consultation plan for the next stage.

The surprise December 17 motion came after councillors already decided to finish the year on December 9 and when the majority of councillors voted in the November 25 meeting, to discuss the restructure at a meeting on January 27, 2021.

A visibly saddened Cr Joh Hancock expressed how disappointed she was that the meeting was sprung upon councillors without the two-days notice that is usually required and without all councillors present.

Cr Cameron O’Neil who has adamantly opposed the biggest change to council in 12 years, was absent from the meeting and Cr John Birkett appeared via phone.

Cr Hancock acknowledge while it might be legal that council discuss the restructure without an official two days notice, she believed it was unethical.

“Once again, it might be legal, but is it ethical to have a meeting today when not all councillors could be in attendance to discuss a huge decision of council as the proposed change to the organisational structure,” Cr Hancock said.

“Once again it feels like we are rushing it through, and I have to ask once again ‘why’.

“You know, it is legal but is it ethical … the legislation requires us to be both legal and ethical when we make a decision.”

Addressing the mayor, Cr Hancock said this decision will be the biggest change this term of council will make and it will not only affect 350 staff but the community at large for many years.

Cr Hancock thanked the CEO Ms Reitano and other staff for their work in putting the development together but pleaded with councillors to give it more time.

“ … I still believe there should be much more work to be done before it should be released to our staff … it actually provides more questions than answers,” Cr Hancock said.

“And I don’t think it should be released today and I don’t believe it should be before Christmas.”

The Western Star asked all councillors about the cost of implementing five executive roles to Maranoa Regional Council and just two weeks ago, most said a figure had not been discussed.

Cr Hancock said the development needs to be released with a business case to ensure council can even afford the proposed organisational structure.

“I think it should be released with a budget done, to see if council can afford this,” Cr Hancock said.

“We’re going to release it and cause angst for the staff and the community and we haven’t even done a business case to see if we can afford this organisational structure.”

With staff’s mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of her concerns, Cr Hancock said it would be “uncompassionate and mean-spirited” to have the CEO call staff members while they are on Christmas break.

“Councillors, can I ask you to take yourself out of your seat here today … and put yourself in the shoes of an employee, who I have been one … and they’re sitting at home because some of the employees have already gone on leave … they are on Christmas break … they are going to get a call from the CEO and have to be told about the restructure,” she said.

“They will have no support … no manager or director around them.

“I am concerned for their mental health.

“Personally, I won’t be held accountable … personally each and everyone around this table, you are accountable for the staff mental wellbeing when they are sitting at home and get this call.”

She asked each councillor around the table, how what kind of leaders of a community would be so “cruel”.

“We are responsible for the mental health of our employees and I believe this is so cruel and I will have no part of it and that’s why I’m not voting for this to be released before Christmas,” Cr Hancock said.

Deputy mayor Geoff McMullen addressed councillors and said he wanted to remind his colleagues that whether they vote ‘for’ or ‘against’, the decision is made from “total council”.

Similarly, Cr Golder highlighted that the restructure doesn’t mean staff will lose their jobs, their roles will just be changed.

“ … it’s my personal view, no one should be worse of … how they are employed, their job may change but as far as their conditions, this is a council decision,” Cr Golder said.

“I’d also like to remind Cr Hancock, there’s also mental health about being negative about this … I believe the quicker we can wrap up this decision … this would have been four months of uncertainty …

“I’m concerned for all employees of Maranoa Regional Council and I’m extremely concerned at Christmas time, people know their employment is secure and Maranoa Regional Council, even though do make decisions, that they care about that no one loses employment which in this world of COVID is very important.”

Crs Julie Guthrie, George Ladbrook, Edwards, McMullen and Birkett voted in favour of the motion.

Crs Wendy Taylor and Hancock voted against the notion.

Councillors discussed the Organisational Structure in a meeting today and an update will be provided shortly.

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