Maranoa Regional Council generic. Photo: Lachlan Berlin
Maranoa Regional Council generic. Photo: Lachlan Berlin

Councillors reject community and staff restructure feedback

The majority of Maranoa councillors have voted in favour of the controversial million dollar-plus model to the organisation's operational structure, rejecting recommendations from the CEO and staff to follow a different path.

The monumental decision - cited as being the biggest to be made by council since amalgamation in 2008 - will mean a draft transition report will be prepared, the final step before the restructure of the council's entire operating procedure is officially endorsed.

The plan is to have five directors responsible for overlooking the five former shire council areas of Roma Town, Bungil (Injune, Muckadilla), Booringa (Mitchell), Bendemere (Wallumbilla, Yuleba), and Warroo (Surat), on top of a region-wide director of corporate and community services; engineering; and regional development, facilities, and environmental services.

After working tirelessly throughout the past few days, including Australia Day, council staff had the report ready to present in the ordinary meeting on January 28.

CEO Julie Reitano gave a two and a half-hour presentation about the recommendations compiled from all of the community feedback from Have Your Say, the staff feedback presented in a confidential meeting on January 27, and examples from other local governments in Queensland.

Ms Reitano's report recommended that three directors be maintained and more power be given to lower-level leaders based in the local communities, the old shire names not to be used as they are not universally recognisable, promote existing employees with local knowledge instead of hiring new staff, and have a flat structure so that lower-level leaders are close to the directors and CEO.

Ms Reitano also warned the councillors it would be "very difficult" to prepare a business case for having eight directors, and would mean the Maranoa Council will have more than any other local government in Queensland, including Toowoomba and Brisbane.

Proposed Maranoa Regional Council Organisational Structure to be considered by council at a meeting on January 27 or 28 2020.
Proposed Maranoa Regional Council Organisational Structure to be considered by council at a meeting on January 27 or 28 2020.

Despite this feedback also taking into account mayor Tyson Golder and the Unity Maranoa ticket's policies, a motion was moved after the report was tabled to endorse the original proposal unchanged, completely disregarding the feedback.

"As mayor, who has the responsibility for efficient running of the local government, this change to the organisation structure is in the interest of the total local government area," Cr Golder said.

"Going back to local will give residents, people who want to start or operate business and community groups a locally focused boss in each area.

"This is not deamalgamation, this is the most efficient structure to run the local government, locally."

Cr Golder reassured that current staff of the council's employment will be safe and their day-to-day jobs won't change.

He said operating locally benefits the communities by giving a feeling of ownership through the use of the old and historic names for the areas.

He also said that people have told him privately that they support his move, and didn't want to post on the public forum.

Unity Maranoa councillors Mark Edwards, Tyson Golder, John Birkett, George Ladbrook and Julie Guthrie.
Unity Maranoa councillors Mark Edwards, Tyson Golder, John Birkett, George Ladbrook and Julie Guthrie.

Councillor John Birkett told the meeting that many people in the Mitchell area have a strong connection to the old 'Booringa' name, and that only '50' out of the '13,000' community members submitted their feedback via the Have Your Say website.

Councillor Mark Edwards said he doesn't want to see change for change's sake, but supported a change to the organisational structure when he was a candidate for council in 2020.

Councillor Julie Guthrie said she understood the magnitude of this decision, but no one from the community consultation said the current structure was 100 per cent perfect and should be kept.

"I'm absolutely convinced that we must give power and decision making to local communities," Cr Guthrie said.

"I do believe there still needs to be support from a regional point of view.

"We owe it to our residents to look forward."

Councillor George Ladbrook said this restructure is what the community wants and will save money in a lot of areas.

Councillor Geoff McMullen told the meeting the majority of ratepayers are in favour of the restructure.

"I believe this is the best thing that could happen to the shire… the area," Cr McMullen said.

"I don't believe it's been rushed."

But one of the most vocal opponents to the way the feedback process has been handled has been former council employee now councillor, Johanne Hancock.

"Why not take the time to get it right?" Cr Hancock questioned.

"When you witness a process where an organisational structure change is developed by one person [the mayor] and when you sit through a process of listening to other councillors and seeing staff suggestions and professional opinions, and not one suggestion is taken on board, and not one change made to the structure, it has been very disappointing to watch."

She said to change the entire organisational structure just to fix roads, won't be the answer for fixing them.

"I believe the money would be better used by actually employing staff and purchasing machinery to actually do the job."

Cr Hancock said she couldn't ethically support the resolution because she believes it goes against the local government principles.

Councillor Wendy Taylor told the meeting she couldn't vote for the motion with the information that she's received.

"This proposal belongs to the mayor, this is how we were presented with it and nothing has changed," Cr Taylor said.

"We have had feedback from the staff, we have heard from the community through Have Your Say, emails from ratepayers, we have heard from unions with their member's concerns, upper management have given us their professional advice, we have not sat down together and discussed any of the issues."

Councillor Cameron O'Neil, who has sat on council for nine years, told the meeting he had never seen anything so poorly designed and executed.

"To have a proposal come before council without the appropriate business case, corresponding budget allocation, is almost laughable if it wasn't what was actually happening," Cr O'Neil said.

"It's common knowledge among staff and the community that there were three options being developed by councillors, and that two of these were blocked from being released for consultation. Not once, but twice, by a majority of councillors.

"In 2008 the state government forced amalgamation onto many regional communities, and we know in our very own communities were made to force five shires into one.

"I'm very proud to see the way the organisation has risen to the challenge and come together to deliver extremely limited resource to a region the size of Tasmania.

"Deamalgamating the workforce back into five siloed units of council quite simply is lunacy and in my view, will be taking our community, our region, backwards."

Cr O'Neil said he didn't support what happened in 2008 but trying to 'unscramble the egg' would fail.

Cr Golder and his Unity Maranoa councillors Edwards, Guthrie, Ladbrook, Birkett, and independent deputy mayor McMullen all voted in favour of the original model.

Councillors O'Neil, Taylor and Hancock, all voted against.

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