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June 24, 2024

Editorial – Council’s top brass seeks renewed contract based on secret review

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New Byron Shire Council General Manager Mark Arnold. Photo supplied

Council’s general manger, Mark Arnold, is seeking to renew his contract from July 1, 2023, presumably for another five years. 

The word ‘presumably’ is used only because the information contained in his confidential contract renewal within the upcoming October 27 meeting agenda is very light on details. 

As a former executive director within Council, Arnold was appointed GM by councillors after former GM Ken Gainger stood down in January 2018.

Council GMs are in charge of, and take responsibility for, operations whereas elected councillors create policy. 

The secret documents in the October 27 meeting agenda are the GM Performance Review report, the GM Performance Agreement, and the Application for renewal of contract. 

As with every GM performance review and contract, the public are not informed of its contents. 

We cheerfully rely on the judgments of four councillors and an ‘external facilitator’ to review his performance to ensure the operations of Council are competent and efficient. 

The agenda notes that, ‘A performance agreement for the 2022/2023 financial year has been developed by the General Manager and Mayor Cr Michael Lyon, with input from the other review panel members’. 

So – what improvements would you suggest for the staff operations he is responsible for? 

It’s a tough question as councils are essentially a corporate arm of the state government, and so their ability to represent community interests is compromised. 

Over recent years, Arnold and his executive team have gained enormous powers under ‘delegated authority’, owing to successive terms of councillors giving up their powers to them, particularly around planning matters. 

Does this limit Council’s ability to represent community interests? 

Or alternatively, given how little councillors are paid and how they seem so compliant to staff wishes anyway, is it good that Arnold’s team are in charge? 

Councillors tend to be more decorative than interventionist anyway. 

Fun fact: according to the NSW Office of Local Government in 2021, general manager annual salaries vary from $143,270 to $633,852. Being a smaller council, Arnold’s take-home pay would presumably be in the lower-mid range of that amount.

When appointed in 2018, Arnold took the reins when community trust in Byron Council was at its lowest ebb in years. 

He told The Echo on July 4, 2018, that the three key elements that he would like to see the council improve during his five-year term were ‘infrastructure, management of growth and its impacts, and working with the community on Council’s decision-making process’.

Has that been fulfilled?

One way to make local governance work for the community, rather than the NSW government, is just to be involved, ask questions, and to be across all the details, limitations and opportunities as much as possible. 

Meaningful, transparent, organisational reform from within also helps. 

Has any structural reform occurred in the last five years? 

It’s not apparent from outside the political tent.

Despite that apparent lack of reform, and a seemingly impenetrable wall of secrecy, thanks, Mark Arnold for not letting the wheels fall off Council while the community grapples with fires, disease and endless floods.

Hans Lovejoy, editor

News tips are welcome: [email protected]

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