The outgoing City of Ballarat CEO Justine Linley will receive a payout of six months of her salary following her sacking by councillors on Monday night.
Speaking to The Courier on Tuesday, the Mayor Cr Ben Taylor said the course of action was necessary to address community concerns.
He has also said it was crucial any interim CEO was an external appointment to allow a full review of recruitment and procurement processes at the City of Ballarat. These were put under the microscope in a damning 79-page Ombudsman's report released last week, prompting the resignation of one senior executive and the sacking of Ms Linley.
Referring to the termination of Ms Linley's contract, Cr Taylor said:
"We have followed a process to get to this point, and based on the advice this is what we had to do.
"We looked at all different options in relation to the contract and advice given around it. We terminated her contract and there would be a six month payment."
In last year's annual report, Ms Linley's total remuneration package was published as between $320,00 and $329,999, including allowances such as a car.
The six-month equivalent remuneration would come to between $160,000 to 165,000.
Cr Taylor said he could not give categorical assurances there would not be further legal proceedings, but said the decision they had taken "limits the risk to council."
I don't see any reason in doing another substantive investigation by us internally. I don't know what that would achieveThe mayor Cr Ben Taylor
Concerns had been raised that the Ombudsman's report, which prompted Ms Linley's abrupt departure on leave last Thursday, was not completely accurate. The vote to dismiss the CEO was not unanimous with three councillors - Samantha McIntosh, Jim Rinaldi and Grant Tillett - voting for a further investigation into the report rather than Ms Linley's immediate removal.
Cr Taylor said: "I will speak personally - I don't see any reason in doing another substantive investigation by us internally. I don't know what that would achieve. The findings are in the report and that's what we have to deal with."
"That's up to individual councillors if they want to question that."
Six councillors voted for the immediate termination of Ms Linley's contract. In addition to Cr Taylor, they included Crs Belinda Coates, Mark Harris, Des Hudson, Amy Johnson and Daniel Moloney.
Cr Taylor also stressed that legally it is not the role of councillors to oversee and scrutinise recruitment - with the exception of the CEO - nor to get involved in the operational detail of councils.
He described their role as a strategic one, like the board of a company.
"It's hard for people to understand the roles and responsibilities for councils. People assume a councillor can dictate what road gets done, what tree needs to be planted where - that is not the role of council.
"We are like a board... but different in that we manage a big budget and we are elected by the people.
"But we still have only one person we are responsible to from an employee point of view and that's the CEO, then the CEO has that delegation to go and manage the business operationally. "
Asked if he would prefer councillors to be able to have a more hands-on role to deal with council operations, he said: "It's a real fine line. That's why the local government act is written [how] it is. In years gone by there was no separation, it was very difficult and there were a lot of reports in the community where councillors intervened in operational [matters], which caused a lot of difficulties."
He also confirmed that councillors were not involved in the appointment of Neville Ivey as acting CEO, who was installed when Ms Linley went on leave.
As well as Neville Ivey as acting CEO, The Courier understands Darren Sadler has been installed as acting director of infrastructure and environment following the resignation of Terry Demeo on Monday.
What could councillors do about recruitment - including for some of the positions that may have been compromised by the processes outlined in the report, The Courier asked.
"We are bound by the CEO," said Cr Taylor. "We are working with the acting CEO at the moment but these are operational matters that are done within the organisation. We do not cross that line. We do not look at resumes - it is a very clear line in the local government act."
An interim CEO appointed from outside the organisation would be a necessary step for change, Cr Taylor believes.
"Having that separation with an interim CEO is really important," he said. "That clears the air that we can have someone external come in and work through that."
Cr Taylor said a key part of the role of any interim CEO would be to look at policies and processes and address any deficiencies.
"It's really important what we're doing in making these decisions is in the best interests of the community - people that live here and also external to Ballarat - and making sure there's confidence Ballarat can still get on and deliver."
Yes, this might be a speed bump along the way but we've got to still focus on that strategic plan.... We still need to deliver for this communityMayor Cr Ben Taylor
Cr Taylor said he had confidence in Neville Ivey, who has transferred into the acting CEO role from his job as Director of Community Development. Mr Ivey was also leading the pandemic response, but Cr Taylor said there would be no replacement for that role as much of the planning had already been done and council was moving to a recovery phase.
The focus would remain on the draft budget and the council's four-year strategic plan, Cr Taylor said.
"We will be having briefings [with the acting CEO] in the short term to ensure that it is still business as usual. We can't grind to a halt as an organisation," he said.
"Yes, this might be a speed bump along the way but we've got to still focus on that strategic plan.
"The budget is still there and that is not going to change - and we still need to deliver for this community."
As for the timelines of appointing an interim CEO, Cr Taylor said he could not yet give specifics. He suggested it was likely that an outside company would be involved in advertising the position.
Once installed, the interim CEO is likely to remain in place until a new council - due to be elected in October - has recruited a permanent replacement for Ms Linley.
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