A report into the culture of Ballarat, which every council worker and many more in the community beyond town hall have been aware of for the past few months, has now been released to the public.
Here The Courier gives a snap analysis of the background to the report, what the main findings of the report are, the impact on council and the community, and what the next steps might be.
You can also read the full report, which is embedded within this article.
WHY WAS THE REPORT DONE?
The cultural assessment was part of the plan Janet Dore presented to councillors when she was appointed interim CEO in June last year. This was a few weeks after the release of a damaging Ombudsman's report into recruitment, procurement and alleged nepotism within the council.
Ms Dore appointed Susan Halliday, a consultant who has carried out cultural reviews at the City of Greater Geelong, as well as Sovereign Hill.
Ms Halliday has also worked as Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Disability Discrimination Commissioner.
HOW WAS IT DONE?
Ms Halliday outlines the methodology and the research quite clearly in the report.
There were 265 employees and volunteers who took part. Of those 102 people had in-depth interviews with 20 questions.
Two-thirds of those 102 people were, according to the report, selected at random from different backgrounds, areas and levels of responsibility from within the City of Ballarat.
Ms Halliday writes that it was a mix of permanent and casual employees, as well as volunteers, people at senior and junior levels and a mix of specialists, genders and and backgrounds. The others actively wished to contribute.
The other 163 people - who also put themselves forward - responded to a smaller, online survey.
This process has given us the opportunity to shine a light on these unacceptable behaviours and to set improved standards, where we can work together to forge a new culture for the City of Ballarat.Interim CEO Janet Dore
Three councillors participated in the research.
Details have all carefully been made anonymous. Specific references have been carefully amended to ensure the people involved cannot be identified, nor can the exact timings, nor the circumstances and the department involved.
WHAT HAS BEEN FOUND OUT?
The report warns that some of the findings will be shocking, and it is true there are several striking references to unacceptable behaviour within the report.
Incidents and examples cited in the report include:
- Being yelled at by one councillor
- Sexual harassment
- Being sworn at and called totally inappropriate names / sexist slurs / sexual language
- Bullied by the workers who've worked at CoB for a long time; length of service status is power
- Bullying behaviour from peers / supervisors / managers at all levels/ councillors
- Managers do not stand up for staff when having to manage unprofessional behaviour of Councillors at events and when they speak to staff poorly
- Caught in the middle of the delivery of a pet project of a Councillor - not all went to plan, and the more junior staff were blamed
- Asked to shred paperwork that should have been kept
- In the past asked to submit inaccurate financial forecasts
One says the usual, and legal, process of council operations where the CEO runs the council, but reports to councillors, was simply not happening: "Councillors should know what is happening via the CEO - what happened?
HAS THERE BEEN ANY UPSHOT SO FAR?
Ms Dore has said that people's positions at the council had been terminated as a result of investigations prompted by the review.
She would not put a number on it, but said there were "very few" instances.
At the council meeting last Wednesday, she also highlighted several new policies, including for purchasing and procurement that she said would tighten processes.
READ THE FULL REPORT BELOW:
Beyond instances of poor or "appalling" behaviour, a number of people interviewed within the report expressed broader concerns about the culture, and about the Ombudsman's impact on council staff. Here are a few extracts below:
"A variety of people shared that they believed that there were former senior officers who were still having a say in CoB workings due to their close personal relationships at employee and Councillor level."
"A number of people raised that over past years they had felt concerned that accurate content was filtered or mis-represented by senior officers who engaged at that level, for purposes that were either predetermined, or as the result of the senior officer not fully understanding the complexities of the matter at hand. Several people provided past examples where non-experts could not answer Councillor questions."
"I see a lot of the management resignations as unnecessary."
"Good people leaving as they cannot stand incompetent management / poor treatment from supervisors and managers, and have concerns about behaviour that some view as corrupt."
IS IT ALL BAD?
No. While much of the attention is likely to focus on the more shocking elements of the report, there is plenty to indicate that a number of interviewees are proud of the work they do and their workplace. Those interviewed were asked for a mark out of 10 to rank their for job satisfaction, and gave an average of six back. There are several instances of people enthusiastic about their roles. "I love my job because it makes a difference," one is quoted as saying.
There are also several references to optimism the culture could improve under new leadership.
Ms Dore emphasised this week her belief that the vast majority of council staff do good work and that she was "very proud of the organisation."
In the City of Ballarat's media release with the report, she said:
"There is no doubt the review highlighted improper and appalling behaviour taking place in our organisation historically."
"While we have already taken large steps forward, this process has given us the opportunity to shine a light on these unacceptable behaviours and to set improved standards, where we can work together to forge a new culture for the City of Ballarat."
The report acknowledges that some of the behaviour described was not widespread. Ms Halliday writes: "While there are employees who have not personally experienced unacceptable behaviour, it is the responsibility of the employer to take the necessary steps to ensure that no-one does."
The main upshot of the report is an action plan, prepared by Ms Dore.
This 16-point plan was noted by councillors at last Wednesday's council meeting. The manner and style of its implementation will largely be in the hands of Evan King, who will replace Ms Dore as CEO on February 15.
The executive team below him, who were appointed by Ms Dore from August through to September last year after the previous executive team all left the organisation, will also play a key role.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE REVIEW? SEND US YOUR THOUGHTS.