The council’s planning department has shed another senior position this week with the departure of Emma-Jayne Leckie.
General manager Warwick Bennett declined to comment on whether he dismissed the business manager of planning and strategic outcomes. Ms Leckie worked her last day on Tuesday, following almost three years at the council focused on strategic planning.
Her departure follows that of Growth, Planning and Strategy director Louise Wakefield. The Goulburn Post understands Mr Bennett abruptly terminated Mrs Wakefield’s contract on April 23. Mr Bennett has also declined to comment on this matter. However, councillors discussed “staff matters” in a 40-minute closed session following her departure.
At Tuesday night’s meeting Cr Margaret O’Neill also asked for closed committee talks on “staffing matters,” given “what had happened over the past two weeks.”
“Councillors are aware of what I’m talking about,” she said.
The matter had not been listed on the agenda. Councillors discussed the issue behind closed doors for 25 minutes on the basis it concerned personnel. It is a confidentiality provision under the NSW Local Government Act.
At the end, councillors resolved to note Mr Bennett’s verbal report and to “generally support” the direction he outlined.
Asked afterwards whether he was concerned about the number of staff departures in recent time, Mayor Bob Kirk said it was a normal thing that happened in organisations.
“You can’t ignore people leaving but they leave for a number of reasons,” he said.
Earlier in the day, while not remarking on specific staff, Mr Bennett said the council had a vision of being “easy to do business with.”
“I think in terms of our response to planning issues we need to get better than we have in the past two years,” he said.
“I’m really encouraged by the response of our planning and building team in the past two weeks on their ideas to deal with planning matters in a more timely way and that is in line with being easy to do business with. We are talking about how do we achieve your goal as a mum and dad developer rather than putting negatives in the way.”
The GM said his staff was handing him a draft report on Tuesday on ways to improve resources to achieve this end.
He told The Post this would involve better defining resources, but also employing more contract personnel in the short-term to clear a workload “hump”. Then it was about ensuring there were sufficient numbers to monitor outcomes, such as compliance with consent conditions.
Asked whether the departures had upset the workflow, Mr Bennett said he had strong faith in his team.
“It’s always sad to lose people, but I have full confidence in the people left,” he said.
The department has lost several key people in recent years, including former planning director Chris Stewart, development control manager Richard Davies and another strategic planner.
In the compliance division, Sonia Spotswood left after some 30 years’ employment. Larry Meng also departed late last year after the State Government took over his supervisory role of the Woodlawn landfill licence.
In February, economic development manager officer Debbi Rodden left to take up a similar role at Port Stephens Council to be closer to her family. Her role fell under the growth, strategy and culture division.
So too does Claire Baddeley’s role. The museums officer left the council on Tuesday to assume a position with the National Trust (NSW) in Sydney.
On Tuesday, Mr Bennett said Ms Baddeley was a “great resource” and would be missed but she had pursued opportunities in the field of her expertise.
In other areas, utilities director Grant Moller left on May 9 after 10 years to assume a role with Veolia Environmental Services at Lake Macquarie. Business manager water operations, Marina Hollands, is acting in this role, while Scott Martin is acting director of environmental planning.
The council has advertised for a director of environmental planning on a casual/temporary contract basis, with applications closing on May 28.
“This is an excellent opportunity for a progressive, outcome oriented leader, capable of driving a culture of performance, continuous improvement, innovation and accountability within a professional team,” the ad states.
The changes come as a developer mounts legal action in the NSW Land and Environment Court. Mr Bennett confirmed the applicants were claiming deemed refusal because the council had taken longer than the statutory 40 days to assess the DA.
The developer, Urban Abode Developments director Rodney Thompson, said his company lodged an application for 39 townhouses in Fenwick Crescent, Goulburn, on January 2.
“It has taken time for them (the council) to come back to us and it just didn’t get us to where we needed to be timing wise,” he said.
“It is all about the timing and ensuring the due diligence is done as quickly as possible.”
Mr Thompson said he didn’t want to go to court, but he’d been informed by the department that the DA would go to councillors for a decision, rather than by staff, which he believed would draw out the process further. This would take it to June, with the possibility of deferral by councillors, he said.
Mr Thompson questioned the need for councillors to decide the project, given that there were “only” two objections following public exhibition. He maintained this added “another layer of complexity”.
“We didn’t want to go to court … but we’ve spent a lot of money on it to have it sitting there three to four months,” he said.
Mr Thompson said while the planning department “was a bit short staffed,” it didn’t affect his dealings with the council.
A directions hearing was set down for Monday, the first step in conciliation.
Meantime, a court decision on a proposed 11,000-plot Islamic Cemetery near Marulan has been further delayed.
The Al Mabarrat Benevolent Society has challenged the council over its 2015 refusal of the development.
The council was advised on Friday that a decision would be handed down on Wednesday, May 16. But on Monday the court informed management that this had been delayed until Wednesday, May 30 due to judicial and conference commitments.