Lismore City Council’s legacy of turbulence when it comes to leadership continues after a late-night surprise motion to sack General Manager John Walker in a confidential vote last week.
It was nearly midnight by the time the eleven councillors switched off their mics and vision of June’s meeting room via streaming was paused.
But the meeting wasn’t over.
Instead, councillors retreated behind closed doors for a confidential motion Greens Councillor Adam Guise had circulated earlier regarding ‘a personnel issue’.
The otherwise spur-of-the-moment memo was shared directly after discussion of recruitment for a permanent general manager, leaving little doubt as to what it proposed.
Mayor Steve Krieg released a statement late last week condemning what he described as ‘the attempted sacking of the General Manager’.
Mayor defends controversial GM
He took on the top bureaucratic job at Lismore City Council in early February shortly after the new council won power late last year.
The sudden sacking of former General Manager Michael Donnelly led to Mr Walker’s appointment as the fifth GM in as many years.
Mayor Steve Krieg has praised Mr Walker’s talents ever since.
‘I would like to publicly acknowledge the great work that Mr Walker has already achieved and the direction our Council is heading under his leadership,’ Cr Krieg said in final paragraphs of his statement last week.
‘I want to publicly restate my full support of Mr Walker and hope that the political grandstanding can now cease so that we can move forward united in the goal of making Lismore the best that it can be,’ the mayor wrote.
The vote to sack Mr Walker was defeated 8-3 by the time Cr Krieg’s majority team of six voted against, with only Crs Guise, fellow Greens Cr Vanessa Ekins, and Independent Cr Big Rob in favour.
Hear no evil, speak no evil? GM declines question on contract
The failed motion against Mr Walker means his temporary contract as an interim general manager is valid, for now, until 8 February 2023.
Recruitments for a permanent manager are, however, to start as early as next month, according to the mayor.
Details of the general manager position were shared publicly thanks to one of six questions with notice [QWN] tabled by Cr Rob, although Cr Guise told the meeting he had tried to submit a similar question.
Cr Guise said staff had initially told him he wasn’t allowed to submit the question before checks with the Office of Local Government revealed too late that wasn’t quite true and Cr Rob’s question made it onto the agenda first.
‘Can the General Manager please advise when the General Manager’s position will be advertised so the selection process can commence, allowing sufficient time to process applications and sufficient time to seek further applications if required?’ Cr Rob’s QWN read.
Attention then turned to the answer and how it would be delivered.
‘The general manager can’t answer that question,’ the mayor told the meeting.
Cr Guise said if that were the case, according to codes of meeting practice, another member of council staff had to answer instead.
But Mr Walker disagreed, saying it was up to the council to determine the matter.
Mayor Steve Krieg answered Cr Rob’s QWN when Mr Walker declined.
Mayor accuses councillors of exploiting questions with notice
Speaking to ABC North Coast later in the week, Cr Krieg accused some councillors of exploiting their democratic right to ask questions with notice.
The mayor expressed disappointment councillors were able to use answers to QWN as an opportunity to make motions that hadn’t been included in ordinary meeting agendas.
The significance of QWN seems to have been highlighted this year thanks to political variations between the mayor’s six-person majority and other elected members of the council.
Proposed changes to the council’s code of meeting practice include shifting QWN towards the end of meetings, which staff also want limited to four and a half hours.
If passed, the changes could threaten the ability of councillors to have QWN heard and answered.