Power: Reform CEO selection

SMALL cabals of councillors should not be given the power to pick a council’s CEO, the Power report into the City of Perth has recommended.

Released this week, commissioner Tony Power’s report has laid bear a conflict at the heart of every council: The person responsible for making sure councillors follow the law is beholden to them for a job.

Councils hire, fire, and give or withhold pay rises to their CEO, who is legally bound to reporting any suspected misconduct to authorities. 

The fraught dynamic gives wayward councillors a motive to hire someone who’ll toe the line, Mr Power said.

At the City of Perth this “contributed to a range of dysfunctional outcomes”.

When former CEO Gary Stevenson reported then-lord mayor Lisa Scaffidi to the state’s Corruption and Crime Commission, he was sacked shortly afterwards.

The inquiry report notes Ms Scaffidi had a phone conversation with council director Martin Mileham shortly before he was successfully interviewed to replace Mr Stevenson, “telling him what she expected from the ‘next CEO’”.

The report says “this was not appropriate”.

Council factions wrestled to get their favoured person in the job, and the chaos “led to the level of dysfunction which caused the minister to suspend the council” in early 2018.

Of the 300-plus recommendations in the report, a significant chunk is devoted to untangling the perilous dynamic between council and CEO.

Recommendations include:

• Instead of a three councillor panel suggesting candidates for the council to ratify, it should come from a panel of a councillor, independent local government expert, and recruitment expert appointed by the WA local government department. The department appointee would “raise any probity concerns”;

• A council firing a CEO must bring in one of the department’s independent experts, provide detailed written reasons (like KPIs not being met) and allow a right of reply. At Perth former CEO Gary Stevenson was forced out following a negative perfomance review, but not everyone on council knew he wasn’t going willingly; and, 

• An independent executive coach, accredited by the local government department, to help new mayors and CEOs manage relationships.

By DAVID BELL

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