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Clarence Valley News

Pay rise for GM ‘obscene’ says councillor

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Laura Black Pay rise

Pay rise for GM ‘obscene’ says councillor

 

By Tim Howard

Clarence Valley Council will award its general manager Laura Black a 2% pay rise – $7200 a year – if a mayoral minute to be heard at an extraordinary general meeting on Thursday is successful.

Mayor Peter Johnstone has brought forward the minute to note the Annual Performance Management report from the Performance Management Review Panel.

The panel recommended Ms Black receive a pay increase back dated to October 7 last year.

Cr Johnstone’s minute released with the business paper on Monday is a glowing endorsement of the general manager’s performance.

Over two pages he listed dozens of council’s programs and achievements as examples of the general manager’s strong leadership.

But the machinations behind the calling of this extraordinary meeting are bizarre.

It has been revealed four councillors: former mayor Ian Tiley and former deputy mayor Greg Clancy, the current deputy Jeff Smith and Bill Day, a councillor with experience on two different councils called the meeting.

They called it to deal with some matters concerning senior staff at council.

But Cr Clancy said there was a change in plans on Monday when other councillors called a rival extraordinary meeting to bring forward the mayoral minute.

“We decided for strategic reasons it was best to withdraw,” Cr Clancy said.

“The mayoral minute was going to be presented at the February 27 meeting and it seems fairly clear they brought forward their motion to undermine our motion.”

Cr Clancy said he was not sure why it was necessary to call an extraordinary meeting to deal with the mayoral minute, unless it was a tactical move.

“Extraordinary meetings are usually called to deal with business that’s urgent and can’t wait for the next monthly meeting,” he said.

“The general manager’s performance review would have been included in the February 27 meeting, so there’s no pressing reason it should have been called, unless it was designed to undermine ours.”

Cr Day was more outspoken.

He said the extraordinary meeting that would go ahead on Thursday “hijacked” the meeting first called.

“We could have held our meeting after the meeting to hear the mayoral minute, and risk our item being declared a direct negative of what had been just decided,” he said.

“We decided it best to withdraw and let them deal with the embarrassment of explaining why they had called an extraordinary meeting when one wasn’t needed.

“It’s strange politics.”

He described the move to award the general manager a pay rise in these times as “obscene”.

“The NSW Government has put a freeze on pay rises for politicians and senior staff,” he said.

“This is the only way, by a performance review, that a general manager can get an increase in remuneration.

“In a time of crazy inflation where people on fixed incomes and pensions are struggling to pay their rates, we’ve said ‘stuff you’ to pensioners, someone on $350,000 a year is not getting enough.”

The mayoral minute justified the decision increase Ms Black’s pay packet saying the Circular to Councils 23-11 from the Office of Local Government noted that the annual increments in salary that are normally awarded to general managers did not happen this year.

It said the reasons were explained in the circular, together with the statement that this was an unintended consequence of a decision made in respect to workers in state government.

The circular also explains that this consequence can be mitigated by councils by using the performance pay rise provisions in general managers contracts.

The CVC GM Performance Review panel recommended that this provision be used to increase the salary of Ms Black.

The Wage Price Index was 4% in September 2023 and the inflation rate was 5.6%. A 2% performance related pay increase would therefore suggest a drop in real terms when compared to inflation.

Mayor Johnstone said there was not escaping an extraordinary meeting on Thursday once the moves had been made.

He said under both the Local Government Act and the council’s Code of Meeting Practice once the call had been legally made the meeting had to proceed.

“I didn’t call the meetings, they were called by other councillors,” he said.

“I can’t comment on the motivations of other people.”

Cr Johnstone did not want to be drawn on the optics of giving a highly paid staff member a pay rise.

He noted that it was a process recommended in the Circular to Councils and when the review process had taken place the numbers had fallen that way.

But he said it was awkward for councils to deal with these matters because it was something that put councillors in the firing line.

 

For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

Clarence Valley News

Mayor to “eyeball” AG over courthouse hours cut

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Attorney General

Mayor to “eyeball” AG over courthouse hours cut

 

By Tim Howard

Clarence Valley mayor Peter Johnstone is brushing up on his diplomatic kung fu, after his fellow councillors voted to have him “eyeball” the NSW Attorney General over a state government decision to cut service hours at Maclean Courthouse.

At its March meeting, the council indicated it was not satisfied with the government’s response to a letter to the Attorney General, Michael Daley, in December 2023, advocating that face to face services at Maclean Courthouse, remain the same.

Instead the parliamentary secretary to the Attorney General, Hugh McDermott’s reply, indicated the cuts to services would remain.

“The Attorney General has asked me to respond on his behalf, Mr McDermott wrote.

“I’m informed that in May 2023, court services in the Department of Communities and justice initiated a change in the level of face to face service delivery at Maclean based on the low level of demand for this service.

“The service was reduced from five days per week to five days per month.”

Crs Debrah Novak and Ian Tiley combined to provide a motion to stiffen the council’s opposition to the decision.

After fine tuning of the wording, the council settled on the motion: That council:

  1. notes the report.
  2. makes direct representations to the NSW Attorney General, seeking support of the Member for

Clarence, Hon Richie Williamson, objecting most strongly to the service hours reductions at Maclean Court House, and the mayor seek to meet the minister to convey these concerns.

Cr Novak said the decision was clearly not in the interests of Clarence Valley people.

“We have the key issues here in front of us in black and white,” she said.

“So this motion now is to go back to the NSW Attorney General and the minister with Richie on one side, the mayor on the other side to the minister saying we’re not happy with what you’ve determined.

“What you think is in our best interest because at the end of the day, it is not in our LGAs best interest to have this service downgraded.

“It’s in the state government’s best interest because it’s a cost saving measure.”

Cr Tiley said the council had little to lose and a lot to gain.

“It’s a matter of great concern, especially to the people of the Lower Clarence, as Cr Novak has well articulated that yet another important service will be lost,” he said.

“Perhaps the next one’s Ulmarra Ferry if we meekly acquiesce on this. What next will we lose?”

The approach was not to the liking of all councillors, including unlikely allies on this matter, Crs Karen Toms and Greg Clancy.

Attorney General

Cr Debrah Novak is leading the charge to keep Maclean Courthouse open five days a week, moving that the council confronts the NSW Attorney General Michael Daley over plans to cut hours of service.

Cr Toms worried the motion made it seem the council was throwing a “tanty” when a ruling didn’t go its way.

“I find this a little interesting that we’ve actually been there done this,” she said.

“We’ve got a letter back which tells us the reasons, but we as the local government council have decided we don’t like the reasons and we’re going to have another go and we’re going to get up face to face with the Attorney General.”

Cr Clancy said he was more concerned that continued opposition was “pushing a snowball uphill”.

“Are we  just putting our finger in the dyke?” he said. “Because unfortunately, the modern world is moving in the direction of less face to face, more phone or internet connection.

“The response is fairly straightforward.

“And it’s to do with the demand and the cost of keeping it open when there’s no demand.

“It would be nice to keep everything opened forever. But I really think that we’ve taken this far enough.”

Other councillors showed more fight.

Cr Steve Pickering said cutting courthouse hours was just a start to further cuts.

“It’s to cut to cut the courthouse hours from five days a week to five days a month is the start,’ he said.

“Obviously, the next step will be zero days per month and then everybody in Yamba and Maclean will be traveling to Grafton to use the courthouse there, while it’s still open.

“Who knows? In two years time will we still going to have a courthouse in Grafton?

“Maybe we’ll be traveling to Coffs Harbour, but as a council we need to stand up for our community it’s not about having a tantrum.

“It’s about it’s about doing what our community would expect us to do.

“And when we receive a response that we’re not happy with, we need we need to challenge it.”

But Cr Alison Whaites disputed that Grafton could lose its courthouse, because of the presence of the new jail at near South Grafton.

“Because we’ve got Serco here and it’s busy every day I drive past and it’s packed,” she said.

‘So anyway, so I want to vote against his motion and I really don’t see the point of moving forward with this and the mayor going down and speaking to that person.”

Deputy mayor Jeff Smith said he supported the motion because he believe the community expected its leaders to fight for them.

“I was I was voted in to be an advocate for the community,” he said. “And  there’s often complaints around the LGA that are were very Grafton centric.

“Well, in this case, we’re fighting for something that’s in Maclean.

“And I’m sick of this valley losing out all the time. It loses out to Coffs and it loses out to Lismore and seems to lose out to Byron Bay constantly.

“Let’s just fight it. Let’s have another go.”

The mayor made a rare foray into debate, arguing the council needed to stand up for the region.

“I think we should go for it, shouldn’t we? he said. “I need to brush up on my martial arts skills.

“We should be fighting for our community and we need to fight for our community because otherwise we’ll be seen as a soft touch.”

Summing up, Cr Novak said in the past decade the region had lost many services to Coffs Harbour and Lismore.

“What that actually means to those people because we’ve lost those services, is people now have to travel,” she said.

“So there is a cost imposed to those people who need to access those services.

“We have a high rate of people who don’t have access to computers, who don’t have access or the skills to access computers. All that sort of stuff.

“That just pays puts the onus back on to the potential clients and I think that’s unfair.

“And and we just need to be out there fighting for what we believe is a service that should remain here in the Lower Clarence Valley.”

Council voted for the motion 6-3 with Crs Toms, Clancy and Whaites against.

 

For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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Alstonville News

Seniors encouraged to get moving this April Falls Month

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April Falls Month

Seniors encouraged to get moving this April Falls Month

 

Older Australians in Northern New South Wales are being encouraged to get physically active this April, to help build their strength and maintain their independence.

Better Balance for Fall Prevention is the theme of this year’s April Falls Month, an annual event held throughout April supported by the NSW Fall Prevention and Healthy Ageing Network to encourage older adults to become more active and reduce falls.

Locally, exercise and dance classes for people aged over 50 are underway in Alstonville, Casino, Grafton, Lismore, Tweed Heads, Wardell, Yamba and across the Northern Rivers.

Health Promotion Manager, Elayne Mitchell said staying physically active is the single most important thing we can do to stay independent as we age.

“As we get older, our bodies lose muscle strength and coordination, so the more active we remain, the better chance we have of maintaining our physical function,” Ms Mitchell said.

“Improving strength and balance in our legs allows us to complete regular daily activities more easily, including getting up and down stairs, in and out of cars, negotiating uneven surfaces and reducing the risk of falling.

“Older people benefit from regular tai chi, group exercise programs, gym sessions, community-based falls prevention programs such as Stepping On, or simple exercises at home to improve muscle strength and balance.

“Research has also shown that regular exercise can reduce falls in older people by 23 per cent, but slowly building up high-challenge balance exercises can increase the effects of exercise by up to 40 per cent.”

NNSWLHD is partnering with Rotary Clubs across the District to provide pop-up Falls Prevention Awareness information stalls, where you can find out about falls prevention and healthy ageing.

Locations

  • Friday 5 April, 10am-4pm, Lismore Square, Uralba and Brewster St, Lismore
  • Sunday 7 April, 8am-midday, Iluka-Woombah Community Markets, Middle Street, Woombah
  • Thursday 11 April, 9am-2pm, Alstonville Plaza, 93 Main St, Alstonville
  • Friday 12 April – Sunday 14 April, 9am – 3pm, Bunnings, 2 Bruxner Hwy, Lismore
  • Friday 12 April – Sunday 14 April, 9am – 3pm, Bunnings, River Street and Horizon Dr, West Ballina
  • Friday 19 April, 10am-4pm, Lismore Square, Uralba and Brewster St, Lismore

The Clinical Excellence Commission (CEC) has collaborated with the NSW Fall Prevention and Healthy Ageing Network to produce a range of April Falls resources for patients, families, carers and health staff.

Fall Prevention information is also available on the CEC website.

To find local physical activity and healthy lifestyle programs, including fall prevention programs, visit the Active and Healthy exercise directory. Information and advice to support older adults to be more active is also available on the Active and Healthy website. This includes home-based exercise circuits designed for beginners to follow along at your own pace from the comfort of your own home.

 

For more seniors news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

Consultant probes council bullying claims

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Clarence Valley council bullying claims

Consultant probes council bullying claims

 

By Tim Howard

An independent investigation into staffing issues, including bullying, in Clarence Valley Council has been underway since the start of the year, it was revealed at the council’s latest meeting.

Mayor Peter Johnstone confirmed an independent Audit Risk Improvement Committee investigation into the reasons behind the staff turnover figures at council would include investigation of claims of bullying.

And during debate there were claims the investigation was looking into allegations of bullying from current and former council staff and councillors.

The allegations came during debate on a notice of motion from Cr Debrah Novak that sought to show staff turnover figures at the council were similar or better than other councils in NSW.

Her NOM proposed: that council informs community how Clarence Valley Council staff turnover rates in recent years compares to those of other councils. Councillors voted 7-2 for it.

Mayor Peter Johnstone that the ARIC committee had engaged management consultants Centium to conduct the investigation which should wrap up in a few months.

He said the results of the investigation would be the subject of a report to council, which he expected to arrive before the council election in September.

Cr Johnstone said he and the general manager, Laura Black, kept themselves at “arms length” from the investigation, but he said it was likely its findings would be confidential.

He said the ARIC guidelines included this: “Information and documents pertaining to the committee are confidential and are not to be made publicly available.”

“Whether or not the terms of reference will be made public will be for others to decide, but I expect that decision will be made in accordance with the terms of reference,” Cr Johnstone said.

“The scope will have been agreed between the ARIC committee and Centium.”

Cr Johnstone said he did not know what the cost to the council would be and but expected the figure to become known later this month.

Cr Novak said the council needed to correct perceptions that the council’s staff turn over numbers were bad, when in truth they were better than many councils, including neighbours, such as Ballina.

In her comment in the report to councillors, Ms Black said claims on social media that staff turnover at council was worse than neighbouring councils were not correct.

Clarence Valley council bullying claims

Clarence Valley mayor Peter Johnstone says an independent committee had engaged management consultant Centium since January to investigate staff issues including bullying at the council. He expects a report to come to council well before the September council election.

“Data gathered from current workforce management plans and consultation with neighbouring councils indicates, Clarence Valley Council is not experiencing staff turnover any greater than that of other as neighbouring councils,” Ms Black wrote.

“Clarence Valley Council’s staff turnover as at December 30, 2023 was 12% and at March 14, 2024 was 14%.

“On any given day, staff turnover is calculated across the prior 365 days per below formula provided by the Australian Human Resource Institute, and therefore can change daily.

“For this reason, council’s generally report either the prior calendar or financial year to provide comparative data across years in Workforce Management Plans.”

Some councillors argued against Cr Novak’s NOM because the ARIC report addressing these issues would come to council in a few months.

Cr Ian Tiley described the NOM as “premature” and “window dressing”.

“It’s premature to support the suggested NOM, given that there is a report to be produced as we’ve just discovered,” he said.

“And that in all likelihood will contain will contain up to date and better information.

“I suggest that this NOM skirts around the primary issues and it’s a fairly ordinary attempt at window dressing.

“I believe it remains important for council to understand why our competent staff are exiting, and hence the need for complete exit interviews.”

Other councillors supported the need for it.

Cr Pickering, who is also the council’s ARIC “observer”, said it was “well timed”.

“Just to actually see real statistics that show that Clarence Valley Council is performing as well as our fellow LGAs in NSW or even better than our fellow LGAs in NSW was good to know.

“We’re talking about Ballina here and from 2023 and 18% staff turnover. In the Clarence Valley we’re looking at 15% which is 3% less.”

Cr Pickering said the figures should quiet claims circulating in the community about staffing issues at the council.

“I don’t know why it’s still a rumour that’s going around in our community,” he said.

Cr Pickering said he had spoken to former staff about working conditions at the council, but suspected these were exaggerated.

“I’ve also been contacted by staff that have left the organisation and I’ve asked them to document why they left the organisation so I could forward it to the ARIC review,” he said.

“And out of the the eight staff members that contacted me about the allegations of bullying and harassment, not one of them has provided any information, not one of them has given me any documentation that I can actually forward to the ARIC review committee.”

Cr Bill Day had concerns the NOM was another another attack on the community group, YambaCAN.

He said the report included in its background information a statement YambaCAN made to the recent NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing.

“I believe that this NOM is more Clarence Valley Council versus YambaCAN,” he said.

Cr Novak made a point of order that this was not the case, but it was overruled.

Cr Day said the council should take no further action on this matter and wait for the ARIC committee’s report.

Cr Greg Clancy said the figures in the NOM reminded him of the expression that “there are lies, damned lies and statistics”.

“We had Cr Pickering say that the statistics were less than the 18% it I think it might have been Ballina Well, apparently in March 2023, our statistics were 17%,” he said.

“But I don’t want to get involved in debating statistics because what I’m really concerned about is the people, the flesh and blood behind these statistics. These are people we’re talking about.”

“People that are working for the organisation, or people that have left the organisation. These are not just rumours.

“There are people that have approached councillors who have stories which are worrying and I believe the best outcome is to leave it to the ARIC report, which I’m hopeful we’ll be comprehensive.”

Cr Novak said the high workforce turn over numbers reflected a trend in the community that had begun to reveal itself as the Covid pandemic subsided.

“It is a workers playground at the moment a brute force that is in transition from the digital from mechanical economy to the digital economy to AI,” she said.

“Of course there are going to be a lot of transitions. That is a no brainer.

“And the biggest thing out of all of this people who are leaving the workforce are people who are retiring. That is one of the biggest baby boomer issues happening at the moment.

“So if you can’t accept those reasons that we’ve been given in these reports, not written by us but written by other external agencies, god help us.”

The mayor said the council was ahead of the field when it came to creating an ARIC.

“From June 2024 all NSW councils are expected to have an ARIC committee that is compliant with the States ARIC framework, but CVC have already had a compliant ARIC for two years,” he said.

“The role of ARIC is to provide independent assurance to CVC and through that to the community that governance processes, compliance, risk management and control frameworks, external accountability obligations and overall performance are doing well through monitoring, reviewing and providing advice to the council executive and councillors.”

Council Bullying Claims

Staff Turnover Comparison.

He said  the committee was highly regarded by councillors.

“Most of the work of ARIC is looking at the operational policies and procedures of council which councillors are not normally involved in,” he said.

“ARIC meeting minutes are circulated to councillors as a confidential attachment to the business paper (for example in March 2024), and the chair has met with, and briefed councillors on several occasions.”

He defended the council accepting Cr Novak’s NOM, despite risking a conflict with future ARIC findings.

“Part of the role of a councillor is to ‘(e) to facilitate communication between the local community and the governing body,’ Local Government Act 1993 NSW section 232,” Cr Johnstone said.

“There have been some faulty figures being circulated on social media and I expect that Cr Novak was keen that the correct figures were obtained and made available to the public.

He said the erroneous figure that was quoted on social media was to take the number of staff who had left for any reason (including those on fixed term contracts that had come to the end of their contract) and divide this by the full time equivalent staff to get a figure of 17% turnover.

“The correct formula is given in the business paper and involves dividing by the total number of staff, not the FTE,” he said.

He said the figures reflected well on the performance of the general manager.

“It would therefore appear that as Laura has become established as the GM, staff turnover has dropped,” Cr Johnstone said.

“This is not quite the narrative that some have been pushing.”

He said, as the report said the “great resignation” that is widely reported as a global phenomenon following COVID was also apparent in Australian local councils, but didn’t affect CVC as much as other Victorian and NSW councils.

The Australian Local Government Association has recognised the difficulties facing council’s, particularly in the regions.

IN 2022 ALGA president Linda Scott said around nine in ten Australian councils were now Ms Scott said there are a range of factors that made it harder for councils to recruit, train and retain suitably skilled workers.

“Housing affordability and availability is an ongoing issue, particularly for regional and rural councils looking to attract specialist staff from outside their local community,” Cr Scott said.

“Retaining the staff they already have is also a big challenge for many councils, given the current competition for skills within the private sector and also other levels of government.”

“Nationally the turnover rate in local government is about 15 percent, and it’s closer to 20 percent in rural areas.”

 

For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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