O'Neill calls for more information on Goulburn Mulwaree Council staff departures

Cr Margaret O'Neill.
Cr Margaret O'Neill.

Cr Margaret O’Neill says she’s worried about the number of staff leaving Goulburn Mulwaree Council and the level of information flowing to the public.

At Tuesday night’s council meeting she called for an update on “staffing matters” in a closed session, given “what had happened over the past two weeks”.

“Councillors are aware of what I’m talking about,” she said.

The Goulburn Post reported on Wednesday that a further two staff left this week. They were: business manager for planning and strategic outcomes Emma-Jayne Leckie; and museums officer Claire Baddeley, who was taking up a position with the National Trust in Sydney. They follow a string of departures at senior level.

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Councillors discussed staffing issues for 25 minutes in closed committee. The confidentiality provision applies under the NSW Local Government Act where it concerns personnel and open discussion would be “contrary to the public interest”. The item had not been listed on the agenda. 

“If I hadn’t called for it, it would have just rolled on with nothing being said. At least when it’s put out there, it’s keeping people informed. We are accountable to the ratepayers,” Cr O’Neill said.

At the end, councillors unanimously resolved to note general manager Warwick Bennett’s verbal report and to “generally support” the direction he outlined.

Cr O’Neill said while councillors received an email from Mr Bennett about the departures, “it wasn’t good enough”.

“We need to know what’s going on. It’s an ongoing concern not only for me, but the ratepayers who come to see me. I need to know the reasons,” she said.

“...People are out there asking questions and they’re the ones who elected me to represent them. You can’t hide things from the public. If you’re a staff member or councillor, you work for the betterment of Goulburn.”

Though conceding she was bound by confidentiality, Cr O’Neill said she could advise people in general terms.

Cr O’Neill likened the council to a board of directors who should be kept informed of major decisions. She told The Post that before former Goulburn City Council general manager Ron Horner was dismissed, the Local Government Department completed a review. As mayor she gathered all councillors together to make a statement, before they voted on his future.

Cr O’Neill said more developers had approached her in recent years concerned about processing times for development applications. She had “gone in to bat” for them, but also referred them through the appropriate channels because councillors could not direct staff.

She believed the staffing matters needed to come back to councillors as it was “an ongoing thing”.

Asked after the meeting whether he was concerned about the number of staff departures in recent times, 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.