Last Friday the Council was given notice by the Minister for Local Government the Hon Shelley Hancock MP of her intention to issue a Performance Improvement Order on Armidale Regional Council under the Local Government Act 1993. Council has seven days to make any submissions.
I am attaching the letter from the Minister together with the draft Order.
My term as Interim Administrator concludes on 11 December 2020 and I am required to submit a further report including recommendations to the Minister by 27 November.
While it is pleasing to report that there are some “green shoots” there is still a long way to go to put in place a Council that undertakes its statutory obligations and has the respect of the community it seeks to serve.
I was extremely fortunate to secure the services of Mr John Rayner PSM as the Acting General Manager and together we have used our experience to rebuild systems and procedures within the Administration and to stabilise the Council’s failing finances. In my view the former and suspended Councillors together with CEO’s and some staff failed and there remains a denial on the part of some to acknowledge their contribution in that regard.
A new General Manager (James Roncon former General Manager Broken Hill City Council) has been appointed and will commence duties on 11 January 2021. I am very confident that Mr Roncon is the right fit to address the many challenges of the organisation but he will need “air”.
The organisational structure of the Council is complex and confusing. Since the 2016 merger there have been four formal reorganisations and eight General Managers including acting and interim. The cost not only in dollars but mental health considerations of staff and service delivery is considerable. While Mr Rayner and myself have our views on the structure that would best serve ARC we have taken the decision that it is best left to the incoming General Manager and there remains a number of vacancies at all levels across the organisation. We also question whether some people now holding senior positions have the right skills and experience.
In my earlier report to the Minister I recommended that consideration be given to the conduct of a Public Inquiry and outlined a number of examples where in my view the Council had failed the community it was meant to serve in the exercise of its functions, provision of core services and decision making, community participation, financial management and Integrated Planning and Reporting.
I can now report that many of the matters I raised are being addressed and have or will be reported to Council and many matters and policies are rightfully being put to public consultation. The workload of the Administration has been enormous and they have responded with professionalism and confidence.
Very importantly ARC is now enthusiastically responding to both Federal and State Government grant opportunities and there appears to be a renewed trust with not only local Members but government departments and agencies. The capacity of the Council to manage these opportunities should not be underestimated and is stretching some areas of the Council to the limit and the Acting General Manager is recruiting Project Managers with a ‘can do’ approach
Some legacy issues are now the subject of independent financial scoping and will be the subject of report to Council as soon as possible.
In addition to all of the above the Acting General Manager is introducing a ‘Back to basics’ culture in the organisation and emphasising the importance of the Council Community Strategic Plan (CSP) process and delivery of same.
Clearly there is a strong commitment of the staff under both Messers Kerr and Rayner’s leadership to ensure that ARC is a good example of sound local government
Given the governance and financial matters raised in the Minister’s Performance Improvement Order and the appointment of both Independent Financial Controller and Temporary Advisor with clear briefs I am confident the incoming General Manager will have the “air” to address the myriad of challenges that confront ARC.