Maranoa Regional Council generic. Photo: Lachlan Berlin
Maranoa Regional Council generic. Photo: Lachlan Berlin

HISTORIC: Maranoa council approves controversial restructure

Labelled a “historic day” for the Maranoa, the majority of the region’s councillors have approved a monumental but highly controversial multimillion-dollar restructure to the organisation to operate similar to pre-almaglamation.

Cited as the biggest change made to Maranoa Regional Council since the introduction of amalgamation in 2008, the plan to have five directors oversee the five former shire council areas – Roma Town, Bungil, Booringa, Bendemere and Warroo on top of three other director roles, was passed by the same six councillors who supported the restructure since it was drafted by mayor Tyson Golder in mid-2020.

The cost of the restructure has been estimated to be at least $1 million.

Despite tireless urgency from Cr Golder who for months has pushed for the restructure to be implemented, the new-look council will commence from September 1, in spite of council CEO Julie Reitano raising her eyebrows over the date, suggesting it would actually be better to commence it from the financial year on July 1.

There’s no surprise the same three councillors, Cameron O’Neil, Joh Hancock and Wendy Taylor voiced their grievances and opposition to the restructure in the meeting on Wednesday, March 24.

The three questioned the mayor as to why the proposal did not state the cost of the restructure; where was the justification for eight directors despite Brisbane City Council having five; and why the concerns of staff and the public in official feedback surveys were not adhered to.

What was passed by Maranoa Regional Council:

Focusing on operating “more efficiently”, Cr Golder said he’s excited for the council’s journey to have a director in each town to listen to the thoughts and concerns of residents.

As they have done in almost every vote on the restructure, the mayor was backed by the votes of deputy mayor Geoff McMullen and Unity Maranos councillors John Birkett, George Ladbrook, Julie Guthrie and Mark Edwards.

Here is what the councillors voted for:

  • Council adopt the detailed organisational structure to commence full operation from September 1,
  • Council publish the high-level structure on the council website and a detailed structure with staff names and teams for internal use
  • Employees be notified with individual advice given to employees and their representatives,
  • Commence the customer service transition to promote the local customer service centre phone numbers,
  • Commence preparation of a draft 2021/22 council budget by both function and local area for council’s consideration, with it being developed in consultation with regional and local employees,
  • Hold a Special Meeting no later than May 19 to receive the draft budget including the recommended ‘must haves’ capital expenditure and rates and charges with the same minimums, same rate in the dollar, and capped at 0 per cent for all categories for the draft 2021/22 budget and,
  • Approve a staged approach with regard to recruitment and hold discussions having regard to redeployment discussions with existing impacted staff.

Additionally, an integral component of the mayor’s motion was the approval for him to obtain legal advice to give him access to all aspects of the restructure.

Councillor Golder will have input into the formation of the five new director positions; input of the contract term options, including the ways to secure the right candidates; allow him to brief and answer questions about the intent of the strategic inclusions; and acknowledge that this legal advice will be sent directly to the mayor, then shared with councillors and the CEO.

Councillors seek amendments to the mayor’s motion:

Referencing his Unity Maranoa colleagues’ election promises, Cr O’Neil said many of them campaigned on being ‘open and transparent’ and pleaded with them to support Cr Hancock’s amendment to include the budget figure in the resolution.

Despite the suggestion shot down by majority of councillors, Cr Hancock said the councillors know the figure of the restructure and ratepayers deserve to know.

“I think it’s really important when we are making a big decision and it’s going to cost a lot of money to the ratepayer, that the budget is actually in the resolution,” Cr Hancock said.

“I know there will be questions councillors are asked down the street and mayor if you’re right it’s going to cost next to nothing well let’s share that, but if it’s not we should open and transparent and be accountable to the ratepayers who put us here because at the end of the day we are dealing with other people’s money,” Cr O’Neil added.

However, Cr Golder disagreed with what the pair put forward saying the structure has been “fully funded” in the budget and will ultimately save council money in the long run.

“I also disagree that it will cost a large amount of money, actually I think it will cost a small amount of money which we have a lot of vacant positions that we fund anyway in the council budget each year … but when looking to $80-100 million budget, the savings can be made by looking at what we do which far outweighs the difference between vacant positions and utilising this and it’s really about efficient service delivery that we will be focusing on,” Cr Golder said.

To include the cost of the restructure was voted against by Crs Golder, McMullen, Birkett, Guthrie, Ladbrook and Edwards.

Councillor Hancock’s attempt to include the officer’s recommendations in the open meeting was then shut down by the same six councillors.

“Once again a lot of work put into the report by officers and I just think for open and transparency that it would benefit to put into open agenda, to have an open and honest debate,” Cr Hancock said.

Supporting Cr Hancock, Cr O’Neil asked the mayor if there’s nothing to hide, why doesn’t council elect to include the officer’s recommendation.

“ … the people who are interested in this can see that we are being open and transparent … there’s nothing to hide but if this is not supported to be included, then people will assume there’s something to hide and that’s just wrong, so why not support putting this out into the community and allow people to see the information that has been presented to us in making this decision…,” Cr O’Neil said.

The mayor said there’s already a clear indication on where councillors lie on this topic so there’s no need to include the officer’s recommendation in an open agenda.

“I certainly believe we have done an enormous and thorough process, consulting and getting information out there, there’s a clear direction of council at the last meeting what we decided so I do believe depending on what happens on this motion that’s up, all the information is here what council has moved from previous meetings,” Cr Golder said.

In her last attempt to make a difference, Cr Hancock requested councillors be able to vote on each point individually.

However, Cr Golder said councillors would not be voting on each motion individually.

In order to save ratepayers money, Cr O’Neil moved that council consider merging two director roles into one, for a trial period, saying there’s similarities between to the two.

“There are some real synergies between what the Director for Roma will undertake … and the Director for Regional Development and Lifestyle … I’m not suggesting this is set in stone and we trial it and then it comes back to council for further consideration,” he said.

“I think it’s upon us … for those to wish to support the proposal by the mayor and ensure we are mindful we are spending other people’s money, yes we are ratepayers but we are the custodians of other people’s money.”

To keep the ball rolling, the mayor said this would be a backwards step at this point in time.

Councillor O’Neil’s motion was voted against by Crs Golder, McMullen, Edwards, Guthrie, Birkett and Ladbrook.

CEO directs several questions towards the mayor:

After Maranoa council staff spent their Christmas holidays preparing the restructure for councillors by the end of January, and concerns were raised over their mental health, a perplexed CEO Ms Reitano asked Cr Golder why he decided to rollout the structure in September when staff were under “incredible pressure”.

“Where does September come in?” Ms Reitano asked.

“What I’ve heard to date, there’s urgency about this … today’s motion is inconsistent with that urgency you’ve spoken about.

“You’ve talked about how important it is for staff to get certainty, yet now it’s going to be many months for staff to get that certainty.

“In the staff’s mind, July 1st makes logical sense, it’s the new financial year, it means consistency of reporting … it’s (September) is not even the start of a quarter, it’s a mid-quarter … could you just explain to myself and employees who may be watching this, why can’t we just do it July 1.”

Due to this “momentous” decision, Cr Golder said the structure required the appropriate time to be implemented correctly.

“Happy to take this on board, but ultimately it’s up to council,” Cr Golder said.

Referencing Cr Golder’s Special Meeting on May 5, in just six weeks, Ms Reitano asked what his expectations were for that meeting.

Cr Golder replied saying all council departments should be currently working on their budgets, like other local governments in Queensland.

The response did not meet Ms Reitano’s standards and she reminded the mayor that council was in a state of “flux” as staff do not know what’s going on.

“Remembering that our organisation is in a bit of flux, waiting to know who’s responsible for what, that’s the added layer of complexity that we have, that other council’s don’t have,” Ms Reitano said.

“Ordinarily a budget comes forward, then it’s recommended by the relevant manager or director, and the staff don’t know who that is at the moment.

“So again, have you spoken to anyone about whether that May 5 … if that’s an appropriate day and what your expectations may be.”

The mayor admitted that he hadn’t engaged with council staff, but believes the six weeks and budgets would have already been planned.

“You can only work on the structure have at the moment … but it has been split up into local areas before and the idea is councillor involvement through that … this is more of a streamlined approach,” Cr Golder said.

Ms Reitano suggested the mayor consult with people before coming into the council chamber.

The CEO urged the mayor to tell her what in his mind he meant by a “rates freeze”.

“So, the rates freeze in each category, we had rates freeze for rates and charges last year…,” Cr Golder replied.

“But some categories, capped to a zero increase, that’s what is meant by this for the rates and charges, so everything they would get on their rates would be the same except for when there’s usage involved … so some categories got a rates freeze last year, what I’m putting forward is that all categories have a zero increase.”

The decision:

Before the decision passed, councillors around the table embarked on a debate saying their voices were not being heard.

But starting with a positive, the mayor said this decision would be a “fantastic opportunity” for council to move forward and begin their budget process.

In the mayor’s corner, Cr Guthrie added that after visiting several towns across the Maranoa, she has heard a common theme of people wanting a change in their local government.

“I’m very encouraged by the fact of giving local people a say in important things that matter to them,” Cr Guthrie said.

Similarly, Cr McMullen said with all the people he’s spoken to, there was unanimous vote in going back to former town names.

On the other side of the fence, Crs Hancock and Taylor both noted that between the draft proposal of the restructure to now, there has been very few amendments despite negative staff and community feedback.

“I am disappointed this resolution has had no change from the very first draft the mayor presented all those months ago, and after all the community, staff feedback; reports we have read and there was a lot of them, surely you would have thought there would have been some tweaks, changes, surely it wasn’t just perfect and with a lot of people’s perspectives and things change,” Cr Hancock said.

Both councillors said their voices were not heard in the chamber and wished a structure was being passed where all nine councillors were proud of.

Cr O’Neil said he was “bitterly disappointed” that no feedback was seriously considered.

In the mayor’s final speech, he said he found it offensive that councillors said they were not being listened to.

“We have spent an enormous amount of hours listening to, I think it’s rubbish to say no other things were considered, just because you don’t have what you put as what was adopted, does not mean that you are not listened to and I have taken all the staff feedback very, very seriously … but each of us councillors which have a vote, do it in the best interest of the local government, it’s not a popularity contest, it’s not doing what you would like done, it’s about what the people want,” Cr Golder said.

The move forward with council’s organisational structure was carried six votes to three.

In support of the mayor’s motion was Crs McMullen, Birkett, Ladbrook, Guthrie and Edwards, with Crs Taylor, Hancock and O’Neil in opposition.

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