What all organisations need to do is govern for the good times, and the bad.
The good times generally look after themselves. The bad times are when the real work is done.
Into my eighties now, and a quizzical observer of life, I have seen a lot of turbulent waters pass under many rickety bridges.
Private industry is not alone in the requirement for good management when difficult circumstances arise.
This applies equally to the public sector - and these times of COVID-19 expose my point.
One of the terms referred to as a mechanism to ensure things run as they should and according to the rules, is governance.
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With respect, most people don't understand the word and don't care to.
But they understand it very well when things go wrong.
In essence, governance is simply the umbrella term for the rules that organisations are run by including the avenues for dispute resolution.
Schools have governance, private companies have governance, churches and our governments have governance.
In many cases this may also be called a constitution - again something the COVID-19 scenario is testing publicly. And that is a relevant thing.
When things are unchallenged and the good times are rolling on, we don't push, question or challenge the rules of governance.
It is the bad times, the tough times, the out-of-sorts times when we get the rule books out and test them.
Sometimes the governance structures stand strong and robustly handle the dilemma with concise logic, reason and historical context.
And sometimes they are left wanting. The gaps in the system are exposed.
I raise this issue now because it has become apparent to me that the new Local Government Act has some significant holes in it.
Over recent times, serious matters that have not been made public, have sat unresolved by the City of Ballarat.
For example: bullying complaints by councillors and similar.
These lodged complaints remain barely dealt with. In any other organisation these could be exceedingly distressing matters, and potentially sackable offences.
The hurdle that seems to loom is the capacity for a councillor complaint to be resolved by anyone other than a CEO.
Or what happens when a CEO decides not to act? What is the recourse for a councillor?
What other options do they have within the organisation for an independent handling and assessment of the complaint?
Currently there is none for elected representatives. They hit a big wall.
They are exposed to poor behaviour without access to independent recourse, save expensive personal legal action.
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This points to a serious failing in the governance capacity within local government as prescribed by the current Act.
The Local Government Act prescribes in many places the fate which can befall a councillor for a misdemeanour but not once refers to any provision for supporting the councillor.
Ballarat residents have spent the last months reading eternal headlines about cultural problems at council.
As a council observer for many years and a councillor for four, this isn't new to this city, although recent dramas might be hard to match.
I am of the view that the roadblock to resolving cultural solutions is the absence of governance mechanisms - or rules - that provide independent resolution solutions for councillors.
The installation of more robust mechanisms is key.
No matter who has sat on council in recent years, the spats and unresolved tyrannies seem to spiral.
The common denominator is the absence of broad governance mechanisms sufficient to deal with serious complaints.
This leads to the insidious cultural problems that fester within the councillors and ultimately seep into the space of council officers.
It is then that sides are taken and divisions within councillor ranks are exploited to achieve the end desired by the council officers. It is a manipulation and warping of the democratic process, deliberate or otherwise.
Ballarat is not the only council subject to such. It is a wheel that just keeps turning.
Good governance mechanisms with independent oversight provisions will give councillors a place to go when all else fails.
It just so happens that I write this on the eve of the council election period.
It may be worth potential candidates knowing what they are about to get themselves into.
When things go south, they are potentially on their own with no support.
They will be on the finest twig on the longest limb.
The romance and reality of local government are very different things.
Confusing the two is an unhealthy and unrealistic place to start a stint as a councillor.
- Grant Tillett is a Ballarat councillor and candidate for the North Ward
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