External concerns were raised with the City of Ballarat about its recruitment processes almost two years before the Victorian Ombudsman received the first complaint investigated in its recent report, The Courier has learned.
Travis Merlo, a former police detective and now an integrity manager at a large state government agency, made the queries directly to the council after applying for a role at the organisation. Mr Merlo told The Courier that it is the only time he has complained about any job application in a career spanning more than 20 years. The City of Ballarat response at the time said council was satisfied recruitment procedures had been followed correctly.
The Ombudsman's Report, the result of more than two years of investigation, was highly critical of several recruitment processes at the City of Ballarat, including for the role Mr Merlo applied for.
The findings, released last week, are causing ongoing turbulence at the organisation. This week, councillors terminated the contract of the CEO Justine Linley, shortly after Terry Demeo resigned as director of infrastructure and environment.
I have no issue if I am not the right person for the role. But in this case, I feel that I would have more experience and qualifications required for this role than the selected person.Travis Merlo
In November 2015, Mr Merlo applied to the City of Ballarat for a role as a local laws and parking enforcement manager. Apart from an automatic email when he lodged his application, Mr Merlo never heard back. That acknowledgement said he would be advised of the outcome after the closing date.
A few weeks later, Mr Merlo said he saw an internal member of council staff had updated a LinkedIn profile to include the new position.
He waited several more weeks then contacted the City of Ballarat outlining concerns over the fairness of the recruitment process.
In his correspondence he said the short time frame involved as well as the absence of any response had led him to believe "that this role was destined for the internal staff member from day one."
"I have no issue if I am not the right person for the role," he wrote. "But in this case, I feel that I would have more experience and qualifications required for this role than the selected person."
The recruitment process for this position was outlined in detail on pages 27-30 of the Ombudsman's report, in a segment covering Terry Demeo and the promotion of "Officer C", who had previously worked with Mr Demeo at the City Of Greater Geelong.
According to a response to Mr Merlo's email, the job was advertised in August 2015, then withdrawn and a revised application was posted in October.
The Ombudsman report outlined concerns raised about the initial process. It said experience in town planning and managing strategic projects were added to the criteria for the second ad, which aligned with the experience of Officer C.
Mr Demeo is quoted as saying: "I strongly deny that the position changed dramatically to a point where there was concern in relation to the initial process. However, I agreed to go through another process on the basis of the concerns ...raised."
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According to the Ombudsman, Mr Demeo chaired the selection panel, alongside an officer who reported to him and an HR officer.
The emailed response from a City of Ballarat human resources advisor to Mr Merlo said he had not been contacted due to "an administrative error" rather than his application not being considered. The email read: "We received over 40 applications and six short-listed candidates were interviewed. Four of these were external applicants.
"Unfortunately in this instance your application was not considered to exceed the quality or detail the experience delivered via the shortlisted applicants. The Council are satisfied that the process undertaken to appoint to the position of Manager Local Laws and Enforcement was undertaken in an ethical and transparent manner."
The member of staff who sent the email has since left the City of Ballarat. Some of the details differ from the Ombusdsman's report, which said there were 16 applicants, four of whom were interviewed, with Officer C the only internal applicant. The email also says Officer C was appointed to the position on December 1, 2015. The Ombudsman's report states interviews took place in December 2015.
As well as his background in the police force, where he was awarded the Victoria Police Ethical Service Medal in 2008, Mr Merlo worked in the local government inspectorate in 2010. He said the process had "gnawed" at him ever since and his views on its validity had been reinforced by the Ombudsman.
The Council are satisfied that the process undertaken to appoint to the position of Manager Local Laws and Enforcement was undertaken in an ethical and transparent mannerCity of Ballarat HR response (from January 2016)
He said the council and any new CEO should "make transparent and fair processes a priority".
Mr Demeo consistently denied there was any impropriety in the recruitment process in his response to the Ombudsman, and said he was "disappointed" with its findings. Known as one of the most capable and hard working members of the executive team, Mr Demeo resigned from his post on Monday. Justine Linley's contract as chief executive officer was terminated by councillors with immediate effect on the same day.
A City of Ballarat spokesperson said there would be an independent review of recruitment, procurement and purchase card processes as a result of the Ombudsman's findings.
THE COURIER'S FULL COVERAGE:
- City of Ballarat ombudsman report: 'jobs for mates' allegations regarding Ballarat Council executives
- Ombudsman report into Ballarat council: councillors express disappointment
- Ombudsman report into City of Ballarat: Councillors told to scrutinise CEO behaviour
- City of Ballarat ombudsman report: The intriguing finer details
- Council executive resigns after scandalous Ombudsman report
- City of Ballarat CEO Justine Linley sacked by councillors
- Ombudsman's report into Ballarat Council: What next for council officers?
- Ombudsman report pressures Ballarat Council to change complaints process
- Ombudsman's report: More woes for City of Ballarat with queries over acting CEO
Mr Merlo's email to council (13.01.2016)
My name is Travis Merlo and on 5th November 2015 I applied for the position of Manager, Local Laws and Parking Enforcement. I received an automated email stating my application had been received and that the return email was to be used as this confirmation.
After not hearing anything for some 3-4 weeks I conducted a search on LinkedIn where it appears the position had already been awarded to a current Ballarat City employee (according to her LinkedIn Profile).
Instead of following this up - I decided to wait to see if notification would be made to me of the outcome. As at writing, I have received no communication at all from anyone regarding this role or my application.
The time taken between the role being advertised, and the internal staff member being appointed was quite short - short enough to demonstrate that perhaps no fair, equitable or transparent recruitment process was followed - as should occur in Local Government recruitment, especially when the position is advertised externally as this position was.
This coupled with the fact that as of today I have had zero response to my application, or indeed any communication at all leads me to believe that this role was destined for the internal staff member from day one. The return email I received clearly states: You will be advised of the outcome accordingly after the closing date, once all applications have been assessed. This has not occurred.
Circumstances such as the experience of the internal candidate as it relates to the key selection criteria of the position, an external candidate not even being contacted in any fashion, and the timing between advertisement and appointment may be suggestive of an uncompetitive process and that this recruitment was not held under the terms expected of a government organisation that is expected to uphold integrity and governance in everything it does.
If an internal candidate was just going to be appointed to this position without consideration of other candidates, then the role should not have been advertised externally - especially when there is such an extensive application expected from prospective candidates. My understanding is that there are mechanisms in place for appointment of internal candidates which does not involve advertising the role externally.
I would like to respectfully ask the following questions:
Were any external candidates considered?
Were interviews for this position held, and if so, how many candidates were interviewed?
Was my application considered at all? If so then what was my downfall to not even obtain an interview? I was able to successfully address all key selection criteria and think I would be a great fit for that position. I have no issue if I am not the right person for the role - but in this case, I feel that I would have more experience and qualifications required for this role than the selected person.
To not even receive any response from my application may suggest it has not even been taken into account. Either way, some form of feedback may assist me in any future application I submit.
If my application was considered, why have I not been notified of the outcome as per your own email stating I would be?
Overall I am disappointed I was not considered for this role. I have no issue being beaten for roles - this certainly isn't the first, nor will be the last role I will miss out on. However this is the first where the circumstances lend themselves to show that a non-competitive, unfair and non-transparent recruitment process has been followed in a government agency where I have been involved.
City of Ballarat response (15.01.2016)
Good afternoon Travis
I refer to your email dated 13 January 2015 in relation to your application for the Manager Local Laws and Enforcement position. Firstly, I would like to apologise that you did not receive correspondence advising when the short listing process was completed and that you were not successful in your application. This was an administrative error rather than a reflection that your application was not considered. We appreciate your email to allow us to review our processes to ensure better communication with our applicants.
I would like to confirm that there was no pre-determined outcome for the position of Manager Local Laws and Enforcement when advertised in October 2015. In accordance with Council's Recruitment and Selection policy, Council could have advertised the position internally only if we weren't willing to consider external applications. The position was advertised externally to ensure that we could attract and assess a wide range of applicants to ensure that we appointed the best person for the position.
The position was initially advertised in August 2015, and subsequently withdrawn. The position was then readvertised in October 2015, with a closing date of Friday 6 November 2015 and the successful candidate was appointed to the position on 1 December 2015.
Our selection process is designed to assess candidates ability against, not only the key selection criteria in the position description, but also interpersonal skills, team fit, organisational fit and in the case of a management position, leadership and management style. The selection panel consisted of the General Manager City Services, Manager, City Services and the Volunteer, Education and Training Officer. We received over 40 applications and 6 short-listed candidates were interviewed. Four of these were external applicants.
The shortlisting of the preferred applicant was based on their knowledge of local laws in parking enforcement, history and experience across local government. Ballarat knowledge, which would be of assistance in hitting the ground running in this position, people skills, communication skills, budgetary management, and team fit.
On the basis of the above criteria which are generally reflected in the position description, the shortlist was restricted to the 6 applicants that demonstrated the closest matched the criteria. Unfortunately in this instance your application was not considered to exceed the quality or detail the experience delivered via the shortlisted applicants.
Due to stringent auditing in Local Government, Council is required to keep very thorough and comprehensive information on Council's recruitment processes. These must be in line with our Recruitment and Selection policy and Enterprise Agreement conditions. The Council are satisfied that the process undertaken to appoint to the position of Manager Local Laws and Enforcement was undertaken in an ethical and transparent manner.
I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.
(Senior Human Resources Advisor)
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