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What’s ruining our Councils?

Updated: Sep 7

The culture of appalling leadership!

Local Government employs over 50,000 people in Victoria. That’s more than the Commonwealth Bank – Australia’s largest bank.

Many of these employees turn up each day to serve residents and help them in their dealings with Council. Whether it be a community room booking, a sports team registration, a librarian helping with resource material or a school crossing supervisor, the majority of Council staff are like any other employees. They are just trying to do their job. They do not have any motive to upset or cause the community at large any discomfort.

There is a second group of employees within the Local Government sector. Those with “delegated authority” or “decision-making ability”. This is the highly paid (often biased) bureaucrat, who writes the reports and recommendations on matters that involve large sums of money and significant change.

Often these senior officers are the source of frustration for ordinary residents. Their “expert advice” seemingly cannot be questioned, yet always collide with residents.

I have watched these staff control and shut down ANY questions from the community, councillors or media. Their best skill is avoiding ANY accountability and blame.

Senior officers are responsible for writing the governance and meeting rules that also shut residents out. They have an open chequebook with ratepayers’ money and are ready to waste it on ill-conceived major projects without any commercial logic, self-promotion, and of course lawyer’s fees to fight residents who disagree.

They also have a revenue model that relies heavily on fines and penalties to raise income for Council.

Often, Senior Officers are NOT qualified or experienced to be experts in complex capital-intensive projects, they lack commercial experience. They are not attached to the outcome of their decisions and may not care about the needs of the community. Often they do not reside in the communities they serve. Almost everything is outsourced to provide “plausible deniability” so that they can claim the hired experts were responsible. Often snippets of information are taken out of context and reports are written devoid of fact and evidence. Any scientific measure or analysis of projects and decisions would reveal there is just no factual basis for decision-making. Rhetoric, influence, and bias call the shots.

Senior Council staff are often ideologues who believe they are somehow saving the community from itself. They honestly believe they know best; they have special information that you don’t have, and they have a fundamental right to implement change, in areas outside not in their council remit.

The sorts of things they recommend are:

  • Removal of gas cooking and wood fires

  • Installation of bike lanes in busy traffic precincts

  • Junkets to sister cities, just to name a few.

It is the Senior staff within our Councils that have destroyed the intent of Local Government. They ask for community feedback and consultation, but they absolutely do NOT want it. It is used as a box-ticking exercise as anything critical that may challenge their mindset is set aside. There is a deep leadership vacuum and crisis in our local Councils.

Residents are focused on roads, parks, pools, and libraries – on value and impact on their lives.

In contrast, Senior officers are obsessed with their expensive project construction pipelines, control of councillors’ thoughts/beliefs, and their ability to write innovative, socially progressive policy – no matter how negatively it affects the community.

Councils are first and foremost meant to be a custodian of community assets and service providers to the community. Today the vast majority of services are being outsourced or abandoned if they do not make big bucks. Rubbish collection, park and street cleaning and maintenance, and running of pools and sports centres are a few of the items being outsourced. More recently, we have seen Aged Care Services, in-home Help, Meals on Wheels and kindergartens being progressively abandoned.

If Councils are simply to be a bureaucracy that outsources most of its functions, and will not listen to anyone but their own echo chamber, then why do we need them at all?

A sector with a staff of 50,000 where the average full-time employment cost is over $100,000 gives me 5 billion reasons to force these functions into an automated arm of the State Government. (We wish)

Council community satisfaction is at its worst levels in decades. The responsibility lies squarely with Senior Council Officers. Sheer incompetence and their political stranglehold are killing local government.

The perceptions of local government are lower than ever.

People no longer feel heard, represented, or served by the sector.

If nothing changes, 50,000 should be out of a job and it is all management's fault.

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