Councillors on interview panels

One of the people of interest being investigated is the former Director of Planning Spiros Stavis. Two days of evidence last week and listed for a further five days of evidence this week, Stavis is under intense scrutiny.  It was revealed that he was in serious financial trouble when he applied for the job of Director of Planning at the former Canterbury. 

As part of that process, he exchanged text messages and met with the former GM Jim Montague and the two councillors Michael Hawatt and Pierre Azzi, was provided with “sample questions” prior to the interview and was interviewed by a panel that included those two notorious fitness fanatics.

The 1993 Local Government Act dramatically drew a line between the role of councillors and Council and the role of the general manager. No longer was the old town or shire clerk the chief “administrative officer” pushed around by councillors, the general manager was the chief executive officer.

Councillors were restricted to the establishment of policy and the day-to-day operation of the Council was legislated as a clear and unequivocal responsibility for the GM.

The Council has a responsibility under section 8A(1)(i) to be “responsible employers and provide a consultative and supportive working environment for staff”.  That’s a pretty recent amendment, so if it’s not clear your Council is doing that, maybe they haven’t caught up yet? 

Other than that broad responsibility as part of the exercising of general functions, the Council is required at 332 to determine the structure but only in so far as the senior staff positions and the roles and reporting lines of senior staff. That means, the Council determines the number of directorates, or Deputy GMs or whatever.  And that’s it.  The rest of it is the GM’s call.

(As an aside, we know there are examples where councillors, particularly the Mayor, do have a role in the structures and the appointments below the senior staff level. That’s a clear breach of 332(1A) but a story for another day.)

Section 332 provides their final responsibility - to be consulted by the GM on the appointment and dismissal of senior staff by requiring that the general manager “may appoint or dismiss senior staff only after consultation with the Council.”  That didn’t happen at the former Canterbury - the two infamous councillors making contact with a candidate, meeting with him, exchanging text messages, apparently favouring their own candidate by ensuring that the GM provided questions prior to the interview and ensuring their bloke got the job by sitting on the interview panel.  Not a good look.

Councillors sometimes sit on interview panels across the industry but it should never happen again.

When we made our submission to the ICAC on 23 May offering solutions to the problems being identified in Operation Dasha, we stressed that we may have other suggestions after we see what was revealed in that investigation.  Clearly keeping councillors off interview panels and away from candidates needs to be part of our second submission as the grubby evidence continues.

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