Trapped in Wonderland. . .

With the sudden resignation, before Christmas, of the Council’s General Manager, Glenn Handford, after twenty years or so working for the Council, the question of his replacement is significant.

As Cr Peter Epov stated in his opening remarks at the recent extra-ordinary meeting that he and Councillor Bell called on January 16, comments which were also expressed by members of the public, the recruitment of a new General Manager is the most important decision this council will make during its term.

Since amalgamation by the NSW government forced a marriage between Greater Taree, Gloucester Council and Great Lakes Council, some pesky “outsiders” elected to the new MidCoast Council are not prepared to toe the party line, previously dictated by Handford.

Former GTCC voters have six representatives on Council, yet the power appears to remain with the Handford hangers-on, some new councillors and our Mayor-from-a-hat, who has been quick to defend and praise the former General Manager and, if his public statements to the media are anything to go by, he seems to think there is little to quibble about in decisions made by Handford and Great Lakes Council.

The Mayor’s disdain, rudeness and bias towards Cr Epov was breath-taking to behold.

Cr Epov saw the necessity to institute protocols, not only in appointing a new  General Manager, but to tidy up the loose ends left after his resignation, when the Mayor did not swiftly accept the resignation and effect details of the GM’s departure and appointment of an acting GM. This left the council in limbo-land, allowing the GM to continue to sign documents, hang around the office (despite saying he would be on leave) and who knows what else, seems highly questionable!

Cr Len Roberts, who has a long and colourful history at Great Lakes Council, was also another performer at the interesting January 24th meeting.

Wait, were we now in Toad of Toad Hall territory? Or were we at the circus, or down the rabbit hole?

To be present at both Council meetings was as good as scoring an invite to the Mad Hatters Tea Party, especially the meeting of the full Council on January 24.

Act One.

The urgent meeting, called by Crs Epov and Bell on January 16th to discuss finalising the resignation of Glenn Handford and the process to recruit a new GM, was scheduled to be held at Forster to where, presumably, Taree residents might not bother to make the trip. But an audience of approximately 38 locals rolled in expectantly. These were mostly concerned, intelligent, experienced people from many walks of life, who had deep reservations about what was going on at Council.

Neither Crs Bell nor Epov had received apologies from the bulk of councillors. Cr McWilliams was an exception, who had apologised as she was away on holidays. Cr Smith from Gloucester, the only other Councillor to show up, kept her head down.

So we waited.

On the dot of 2pm, the advertised starting time, the Mayor wanted to close the meeting, but protocol required that they had to wait a half hour in case of a late arrival.

So, the audience of deeply concerned citizens introduced themselves, chatted, mingled, and networked.

At 2.30pm, the mayor called everybody to attention, and prepared to close the meeting.

Cr. Epov interjected, asking the Mayor to read the apologies, advising that he would like to know who had sent  apologies, as he hadn’t received them, but Mayor West said he didn’t have to do so.

Boos and hisses from outraged onlookers.

Grudgingly, the Mayor read the last minute list of those who would not be present, but refused to give their reasons.

“Set Up”.Boycott” came mutterings from the gallery.

Outside the Council Chambers, the public gallery mingled, networking, exchanging emails and phone numbers and making plans to meet at the next council meeting in eight days’ time.

Act Two. 

There was a long agenda for this next meeting, on January 24, signed, strangely enough, by the supposedly absent GM, on leave.

First business was to conclude the unfinished business from the previous extraordinary meeting, as to how to conduct the appointment of a new GM. From the large group in the gallery once more, the general opinion was that here was a wonderful opportunity to clear the decks,  start afresh and advertise Australia-wide for a responsible, honest GM who was capable of running a multi-million dollar corporation.

Councillor Len Roberts had other ideas. He kept forgetting to turn his microphone on, so the gallery couldn’t hear and shouted to remind him. “Turn the Microphone on!” at least four times.

More alarmingly, at one point the Mayor exploded, “I can’t hear, I can’t hear! I hear cicadas! I have cicadas in my head that’s all I can hear!” This led to some mutterings that perhaps Cr Dr Keegan should run his stethoscope over the Mayor to see if he was up to the demands of his job!

Cr Keegan didn’t look happy, seeming to wish he was anywhere else. He did stand and support Cr Epov’s suggestion that the next GM’s appointment should only be for three years, (which was knocked on the head by Cr Roberts). But, otherwise, he sat looking surly and moody. If Dr Keegan is to lead the Labour Party to victory at the next election, he might want to have a quick refresher course at Charm School.

Recruitment Panel

Cr Epov explained his motion for recruiting a new GM, but was pooh pooh-ed by Cr Roberts, who announced that Council should appoint its own panel to make the decision as to whom should be the GM. Cr Roberts then trotted out a list of Council members that he thought suitable to sit on a special recruitment panel, giving his five suggestions from the existing Council, which did not include Crs Bell, Epov or Keegan among others. They did, however, include some “newbie” ‘L’ plate councillors, so they could “learn the ropes” and be nurtured, as Roberts believed it was “good to bring in and train up the new ones”.’  . . . Excuse me, to decide the General Manager of a multi million dollar business, where expertise in executive recruitment is mandatory?? C’mon Lenny baby!!

Anyway, good ole loose lips Lenny pressed on about his grand idea of that a panel to select the next General Manager be essentially kept in house under his watch.

The Mayor hurriedly called a vote, and Crs Bell, Epov, Keegan and McWilliams were out-voted on the selection panel for the new GM.

Cr Epov requested to speak, and pointed out this all smacked of cherry-picking and caucusing.

The Mayor hushed him.

Lenny took umbridge, and denied phoning around to swing the numbers. He pointed out that Cr McWilliams and Cr Bell had had a phone conversation, so why was he not allowed to call councillors?

Cr McWilliams, a feisty former Mayor, leapt to her feet and said yes, she had rung Cr Bell to wish her Merry Christmas. Nods and agreement from Cr. Bell.

Then, as Lenny leapt in again, Cr McWilliams dropped her bombshell and shouted at him, that he might be a Baptist Minister, but he was lying from the pulpit as he had phoned her asking her to vote a certain way.

Cheers, and jeers, from the gallery.

Contacted by this paper later, Cr McWilliams did not wish to elaborate, saying, “The only comment I would like to make is that, when every Councillor was elected, he or she took an oath on the Bible that he or she would impartially carry out the functions and powers in the best interest of the community. It is my belief that is not what happened in the case of selecting the Committee for the selection of the future General Manager. I might add that my vote was not for any other reason except PRINCIPLE.”

Councillor Bell, commented, ‘I believe some Councillors didn’t show because they were genuinely unavailable and some because they were making a point. I take on board their “point scoring” and the lesson. I can agree to disagree and trust they too may at some point, see my point. I am very disappointed that it appears a
decision was made pre the meeting that excluded some Councillors.’

Performing Seal

So there we have it folks, done and dusted. We will be stuck with a groomed performing seal as a GM.

As a senior former councillor of many years standing and experienced in areas of Public Service, commented, it takes a minimum of a year or two on Council to learn the ropes. You can’t flick through a rule book, google regulations and send out officious sounding I-know-it-all emails to the community when you’re a first time councillor. Let alone decide on the new GM!

And to read the write-up of this meeting in the local paper is to choke on your toast, as we see a self -satisfied photo of the Mayor assuring us that “Council Followed Due Process.”

GM Rant

Following his dummy-spit resignation, the spectre of Handford hovered in Council, despite the fact that he was supposed to be on leave.

In a final gift to us, the GM agreed to $162,000 for the Masters’ project manager’s job determined under delegation, assumingly whilst on leave. Again the act of a dictator without  Council seeing any tenders.

Handford then made a spectacular (but not for the first time) show by speaking to assembled staff and ranting about a certain community member who had criticised him, haranguing this terrible paper and myself, before bursting into tears.

Following the last council meeting, the gloating and boasting from Crs Fowler and Christensen and their fan club, said a lot about their lack of education and manners.

On social media, in public at social functions, and in emails to members of the community who’d written to them questioning their assertions and asking for clarification, Mayor West, Crs Christensen and Fowler unwisely slandered and criticised this paper and myself as telling lies, being a council bashing rag, someone who knows nothing, and threatened that this paper should be “silenced” or sued.

I was going to print their FB posts, copies of emails and information and also letters sent from members of the public, relating to behaviour and comments from these bullying and bragging chaps, but space does not permit. Their comments, however, have been sent to relevant authorities.

So where to next? 

Without consulting councillors, suddenly a Resolution Facilitator has been hired by Council at a cost of $2000 (plus expenses we wonder?) to speak to Councillors to guide them through the decision-making process  –“Personal issues, relationship problems, workplace conflict or organisational change.”

Does this person also read palms and counsel marriage breakups? We do want our money’s worth. And who’s great brain snap was this? Aren’t our councillors supposed to approve this type of expenditure? Who is pulling the strings in there? Didn’t we elect these people to act like adults and work collaboratively to advance the interests of our community? Will they be bringing in a resolution facilitator each time there is a minor problem?

Do you hear it? Faintly echoing, Alice commenting  … “Curioser and curioser .  .”


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2 Responses to Trapped in Wonderland. . .

  1. Jenny Little says:

    Am not going to celebrate or denigrate who of the local candidates were successful in the last elections BUT….. Any new councillors were elected because the people wanted new blood, new ideas & representation for the additional communities we have had to acquire!
    They may or may not have been my choice =
    Sooooo why have they been denied a say regarding the new GM?

  2. Peter Howard says:

    “Handford then made a spectacular (but not for the first time) show by speaking to assembled staff and ranting about a certain community member who had criticised him, haranguing this terrible paper and myself, before bursting into tears”

    This needs more exposition Di!

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