Council leaders depart

Latrobe City Council is on the brink of a major restructure which will see its five overarching departments become four and a complete replacement of its senior managers.

Almost 20 years of combined local government experience was lost last week when council’s only two remaining, non-acting general managers, Grantley Switzer and Allison Jones, departed on Friday.

Under the imminent changes, their portfolios of ‘recreation and city infrastructure’ and ‘economic sustainability’ will be amended to fit with the new structure.

Mr Switzer and Ms Jones’ departures were the latest in what is now a complete exodus of the senior management team since late last year.

The past six months has seen the resignations of chief executive Paul Buckley; general manager of governance Carol Jeffs; and general manager of organisational excellence Zemeel Saba to take up positions with other organisations; along with the retirement of general manager of community liveability Michael Edgar.

At present, the Latrobe City Council is being led by a senior management team made up entirely of staff ‘acting’ in those roles.

Acting chief executive John Mitchell would not comment on the specific circumstances surrounding Mr Switzer and Ms Jones’ departure, but has confirmed to The Express a restructure is set to go ahead.

It is understood staff were informed this morning.

“After a discussion with council, I initiated the organisational structure review,” Mr Mitchell said.

“We are concerned about having the right structure in place so we could take the opportunity for efficiency and take out layers of decision-making that hold up the approval process.”

Mr Mitchell said a consultant was brought in to the organisation in early March and spent about a fortnight there, where she interviewed 31 staff members, including the general managers.

He said from those discussions it was determined council needed to “act now” to bring stability to the organisation.

“I think we all agreed it was an opportune time to conduct that review,” Mr Mitchell said.

“We had three acting general managers and also about 30 others acting (within the organisation), it’s not good, there’s uncertainty.”

It is understood the consultant produced a report which will not be made public.

“The aim of the report was to review the structure, ensure the right alignments to deliver on the council plan, maximise operational efficiency in light of cost pressures the organisation is facing and to ensure the organisation has the capacity to effectively manage its internal and external functions and relationships,” Mr Mitchell said.

He said while organisational restructure was the responsibility of the chief executive, he had discussed the plan with council.

“Given my acting role, I felt it was prudent to let council know and judge their view about implementation,” he said.

“It’s important for me to understand what the council need and this report went to the very heart of ‘can we deliver on the council plan?’.

“We had a good discussion. I think it was acknowledged the positives of this were there are going to be better synergies.”

Under the restructure, council’s five overarching departments will become four: governance and organisational development; economic development and planning; community liveability; and technical services, infrastructure and waste.

“We’ve taken waste and landfill management out of economic development and put it in with the tech services with a strong engineering focus,” Mr Mitchell said.

“Previously we had planning in with the governance area and everyone realised that wasn’t the best mix.

“Now with economic development and planning in the same department, if you are a developer, you’ll be talking to the one department.”

Along with this, payroll and human resources would be brought into the same department and the support team for the chief executive and mayor bolstered by the addition of the community relations and media team.

“I think that’s a more traditional model,” Mr Mitchell said.

Mr Mitchell is soon expected to advertise for general managers to lead the four overarching departments.

“I’ve invited the people in acting roles and existing managers have all previously been invited to apply for those four positions and they all understand that very clearly,” Mr Mitchell said.

“We have a process to appoint people on merit. Organisations do that, it means the best people get the job.”

When asked whether he was concerned the loss of an entire management team over the past few months had resulted in the loss of decades of experience, Mr Mitchell said he was confident there was “tonnes of talent within the organisation”.

“The people on the ground, they’re the glue in all of this,” Mr Mitchell said.

“The organisation will continue to move on.”

Mr Mitchell said council would move forward in the next few weeks with the recruitment process for a permanent chief executive.

He said the restructure would not affect staff below the general manager role, but he expected changes at a lower level would eventually be considered.