That was then… sacked Tweed GM David Keenan at Tweed River Art Gallery just weeks after his appointment in April last year. Photo Jeff Dawson
Tweed Shire Council late last night sacked general manager David Keenan just 10 months into his three-year contract, with majority councillors citing a loss of trust in his ability to continue in the highly-paid job.
The surprise move comes after what is believed to have been an irreparable breakdown in relations between the GM and the mayor over various issues in the 10 months Mr Keenan has been in the job.
Mayor Barry Longland moved in a late urgency motion to terminate Mr Keenan’s contract in a closed-door session after the general council meeting and majority councillors agreed, with a 4-3 vote (Crs Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne against).
Late this morning, a rescission motion on the move failed, along the same voting lines. Cr Longland issued a statement saying he would be appointing an acting general manager as soon as possible.
‘There is a clause in the general manager’s contract which permits the termination of the contract without notice and without a reason being necessary,’ Cr Longland said.
‘In making this decision, Council was acting in the best interests of the Tweed community.
‘I want to reassure Tweed residents and ratepayers that it is business as usual for the Shire and Council has an experienced senior management team which will ensure no disruptions to Council business.’
It’s believed Mr Keenan will be paid out the remainder of his contract and has been given several days’ notice. One of four council directors is expected to be appointed acting general manager next week.
The move to cut short the GM’s contract came only days after Cr Longland returned from a three-week overseas holiday.
There was no clue during last night’s open council meeting of the move, which came during the confidential session when members of the press and public were excluded.
But council watchers say several issues which the GM handled had soured relations between Mr Keenan and majority councillors.
These include the secret charging of two councillors for a code of conduct breach after they entered a council quarry to investigate longstanding claims by a neighbouring resident of pollution of a waterway by the quarry operations.
Reports had also circulated that staff morale at council had sunk recently due to internal restructuring and policies instigated by the GM, who took up his appointment at the end of April last year.
But the last straw, Echonetdaily has been told, was an unprecedented action by Mr Keenan to secretly investigate not only his staff but councillors on the back of ‘complaints’ made by the Tweed’s biggest developer, the Leda Group, which is behind the massive Kings Forest and Cobaki developments.
The staff and councillors were apparently also warned not to say anything about the so-called investigation.
The move came just after Cr Longland left for his holiday and this is believed to have infuriated him.
It also rang alarm bells for some councillors who had previously been accused by Leda of slowing down their developments.
Leda in 2011 gave a so-called ‘secret’ 74-page ‘dossier’ to local media with details of people they considered to be hurdles to their developments, including local ecologists and councillors.
Some people were targeted in the ‘dossier’ simply because they made submissions to public consultation processes.
Mr Keenan, 47, replaced former long-serving general manager Mike Rayner. Before his appointment to Tweed shire, Mr Keenan was chief executive officer of Mitchell Shire Council on the northern outskirts of Melbourne.
But he quit that job only after 18 months, with local media describing it as a ‘shock resignation’, given he had also overseen an extensive restructure of the council’s organisation and processes.
Local media reported that Mr Keenan told councillors he was leaving that shire for the Tweed for lifestyle reasons.
Before his role at the helm of Mitchell Shire Council, Mr Keenan spent four years as director, city sustainable development at neighbouring Hume Shire Council.
The decision to appoint him at the helm of Tweed shire’s administration was a unanimous one taken by six of the seven councillors.
Cr Katie Milne had boycotted that meeting, as she had been controversially expelled from the selection panel by other councillors after telling Echonetdaily it would have been ‘wonderful’ to see a female general manager get the top job or someone with environmental credentials.