"A mountain to climb to win back community confidence": that was the frank assessment of the new interim CEO of the City of Ballarat Janet Dore as her successful application for the role was announced.
Her first media appearance on Wednesday took place in a town hall she already knows intimately. Having served as the organisation's chief executive for five years during the 1990s, Ms Dore returns at a time of profound uncertainty for the City of Ballarat, a mood largely prompted by the release of the Victorian Ombudsman's report last month.
I love Ballarat, I live here, I came back here not expecting to work at the council again
Her challenging role will begin on Friday morning, and is perhaps something of a surprise move for a highly respected executive who has had a successful career leading public institutions and describes herself as semi-retired.
However, Ms Dore's advocacy for the area - including three years as chair for the Committee for Ballarat, a role she only stepped down from in 2018 - will have stood her in good stead for the vacant CEO position.
"I love Ballarat, I live here, I came back here not expecting to work at the council again," she said. "I think we've got a mountain to climb to win back community confidence and that is what I am here to do."
The Mayor Cr Ben Taylor acknowledged that Ms Dore's knowledge of the city and its priorities were among the key selling points of her interview with councillors last week. However, Cr Taylor said it was the way she proposed addressing the issues raised in the Ombudsman report - including procurement and recruitment processes, as well as the use of purchase cards that really caused her to stand out.
Ms Dore promised to review everything "from first principles" with her first action to overhaul the council's procurement and launch a reviewed policy by the end of the month.
The challenges will run much deeper than that. The most obvious council services have continued as normal - the collection of rubbish, cleaning, planning applications. However, many outsiders will be looking for reassurance about the less tangible direction of council: how it will go about attracting growth, people and business to a city that, like so many, is still reeling from the painful effects of COVID-19 restrictions.
Ms Dore comes armed with a background in town planning, and has been a staunch advocate for investment in the region. As Committee for Ballarat chair, she helped steer renewables executive Melanie Robertson into the CEO role.
She has also been a vocal supporter of investment in transport connections to the city, particularly fast rail. Along with her long employment history in local government, Ms Dore has worked for other state organisations, most notably at the helm of the Transport Accident Commission from 2007 to 2015. Few people know the architecture of government bureaucracy and how to navigate it as well.
But the internal issues are likely to dominate for her tenure, and Ms Dore is known for being tough and unafraid to make difficult decisions - a reputation she alluded to on Wednesday.
"I am direct and I am fair and I want to give value to our ratepayers. They pay our salaries."
She overhauled the executive team at the City of Newcastle and changes are highly likely at the City of Ballarat - although she would not be drawn on specifics.
I don't waste any time. I know what has to be doneJanet Dore, City of Ballarat interim CEO
"I can't foreshadow what... that might lead to. I don't think redundancies are the right thing for a new CEO to march in and talk about... I don't waste any time. I very clearly know what has to be done because council's told me."
As well as addressing the findings of the Ombudsman report, Ms Dore will oversee the council's response to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission [IBAC] report released last year. The response to the report, which outlined how corrupt sports manager Lukas Carey was able to defraud council of $184,123, is due this September.
An additional challenge will be navigating a council group showing signs of fraying - particularly in the relationship between the current mayor Cr Taylor and the previous mayor Cr Samantha McIntosh. While the decision to appoint Ms Dore was unanimous, the fallout from the majority decision to terminate Justine Linley's contract with immediate effect has proved particularly acrimonious.
"I will have a workshop with councillors to make sure I am understanding their part in setting an example for the organisation," Ms Dore said. "The way they work together is influential on the culture of the organisation. We need to work together to build trust."
Ms Dore also dismissed any concerns about having been previously involved at the City of Ballarat. She said that she wanted to pave the way for good candidates for a permanent role to be in front of a newly elected council by Christmas.
"It's 20 years since I left. I am not coming back to the culture I left. And I am not looking backwards, I am looking forwards.
"And I am looking to get up that mountain to base camp with the fittest possible team and organisation so the ongoing CEO can climb to the top."
Transcript from Janet Dore's initial media appearance
"It's a great privilege to be coming back to the City of Ballarat as interim CEO.
When I left the City of Ballarat, there had been enormous efforts made because of compulsory competitive tendering. We had worked under commissioners and I was really pleased to lead the council and welcome the councillors back after the commissioners had left.
So we worked in a time of no elected councillors for a while. It's great to be coming back to a council who clearly want to get on with the job. I think we've got a mountain to climb to win back community confidence and that is what I am here to do.
I love Ballarat, I live here, I came back here not expecting to work at the council again.
I know there are a lot of good people in this organisation. Some of them I know from before, but everybody will be treated as I treat myself and others.
I think if you went to the TAC [Transport Accident Commission] and to Newcastle council where I was, you would find that staff morale and satisfaction were very high.
I am direct and I am fair and I want to give value for money to our ratepayers. They pay our salaries.
Q. What's first on your agenda?
JD: If I could say what the first thing was, I wouldn't be being fair to council. But I will be meeting with the senior team, and I will take some direct action with regard to procurement and I will have a workshop with councillors to make sure I am understanding their part in setting an example for the organisation.
They and the way they work together is influential on the culture of the organisation. We need to work together to build trust.
Procurement and credit cards were a small part of the Ombudsman's report. A lot of the Ombudsman report relates to hiring practices. How are you going to approach that?
JD: My list in week one covers all those points. I am not going to leave anything off the list. I will be setting up working groups very quickly to look at those policies. I have committed to council that by the end of this month I will have a revised procurement policy to council. I can't list all my priorities, but I can tell you I can juggle as well as other things at the same time. I'm here to give my 110 per cent.
And I am looking to get up that mountain to base camp with the fittest possible team and organisation so the ongoing CEO can climb to the top
Given the Ombudsman's report concentrated on community perceptions and perceptions within the organisation, you having been here before - that might be seen as a difficult thing for people to get over?
JD: I am stunned by that. Stunned. It's 20 years since I left this place. The culture has to be different. It's different with every CEO. It's different with every leadership team. I am not coming back to the culture I left. And I am not looking backwards, I am looking forwards. And I am looking to get up that mountain to base camp with the fittest possible team and organisation so the ongoing CEO can climb to the top. But I know it's about community confidence.
Q: On that community confidence will you be looking at the roles that have perhaps been improperly filled?
JD: I will review everything from first principles. I can't foreshadow what action that might lead to.
Q: There may or may not be redundancies?
JD: I don't think redundancies are the right thing for a new CEO to march in and talk about. I'm not on about redundancies.
I'm on about service and delivery out there and that's why I start at 7am on Friday morning at the depot because those people have been out there through COVID and we need them to keep going out there.
Q: Is this a professional opportunity you relish? Is this where the city should be?
JD: I would rather we weren't where we are. I am going to look forward. I did work with councillors last time, I welcomed councillors back. I really worked hard in the community. I am dedicated to this place and I am looking forward to make sure we go onwards and upwards.
Q: You're here until a new CEO is recruited. Does that limit your powers somewhat? You've only got months until a new council is put in place.
JD: I've got all the authority of a normal CEO as outlined in the local government act. We've got a new local government act that outlines really good principles which councils should operate under. We may or may not have a lot of new councillors in November.
My job is to have everything ready with some good candidates for that new council to interview before Christmas.
Things will happen fast. I don't waste any time. I very clearly know what has to be done because council's told me.
THE COURIER'S FULL OMBUDSMAN REPORT 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?
- Troubled waters at town hall
- Ombudsman report pressures Ballarat Council to change complaints process
- Ombudsman's report: More woes for City of Ballarat with queries over acting CEO
- External concerns raised over City of Ballarat recruitment in early 2016
- Why the three of us voted against sacking the CEO
- Ombudsman's Report: Recruitment agency selected in search for interim CEO
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thankyou very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.