Mayor’s shock at staff complaint

Councillor Ben Shaw

DERWENT Valley mayor Ben Shaw yesterday expressed his shock at learning a number of council staff wanted to see him banned from the municipal offices.

In a 750-word statement on Facebook, Cr Shaw said he had found out via the media that “council staff have a problem with me putting undue pressure on them and directing them.”

The ABC reported on Friday that staff at the council had asked general manager Greg Winton to ban the mayor from the council chambers and prevent him from directing staff. A front page article in the Mercury yesterday quoted deputy mayor Jessica Cosgrove saying staff morale was at an all-time low.

Both the ABC and the Mercury reported another councillor, Paul Belcher, saying the mayor should resign. He said the council was dysfunctional and should be sacked unless the mayor and senior management resigned first.

In a Facebook post at 8am yesterday, Cr Shaw said the reports had come as a complete shock. “I’ve never had a complaint or a conversation around this at all with staff or the general manager, so it come as a complete shock,” he said.

“I was elected to do a job and that’s to get council moving in the right direction. There is historical issues and behaviours that need shifting and needs pushing. For too long we just accept that council isn’t accountable, council does what they want and doesn’t listen or just simply ignores issues and they will go away… well if I’m in this job I’m going to try my hardest to make sure that shift is made,” he said.

“But to my knowledge I have not directed staff to do anything and I certainly do not directly put undue pressure on them, I do however put pressure on the [general manager] to get the best outcomes for the community and I will continue to do so until my term is up.”

Cr Shaw said he received daily complaints about the council’s performance. “I am not allowed to take these issues and fix them, I’m not allowed to be involved in operations, so my only option is to put pressure on senior management to get it right. If that’s filtering down and causing pressure then that’s an issue the GM needs to handle and work out how he gets the best from his staff in the right ways.”

Friday’s ABC report.

Cr Shaw also addressed the issue of leaked text messages which were being published on a local Facebook page until its administrator called a halt last night. “I have apologised to the people named in them and truly regret giving my opinions to someone who was not my colleague or the GM because that is the only place I should raise those issues, again though they were concerns about the running of our council and senior management performance and attitudes.”

“I’ve raised all these issues and more through the appropriate channels and frustratingly haven’t been able to affect change that way and I guess that’s my excuse for confiding in someone I should not have, and now for the mess that person has created I’m truly sorry to the staff, the organisation, the councillors, our families and the community.”

Cr Shaw said the council was not dysfunctional and he would not be resigning. “It certainly needs a good hard look at itself and management need to be held to higher account for actions taken and not taken around issues that concern the community,” he said.

“So I will not be going anywhere, I’m elected for three more years and I will continue to strongly lead our council in the direction [I] and the other councillors feel our community needs to go, and we will continue to hold management to account and we will probably do that even more stringently now because what we have been doing clearly isn’t working.”

Cr Shaw said great things were happening in the community. “It’s an amazing place with heaps of opportunities, I am an extremely positive person who tries to see the good in everything, so while we have had a small period of discontent and issues (mainly social media driven dramas) I am looking forward to putting this all behind us and getting on with the job at hand.

“We have some amazing people on staff and council and in the community, we just need to manage it all properly for the best interests of the community. I will continue to be me, I’ll speak up, I’ll be tough but fair, I’ll listen and I’ll act where I can. But I won’t back down from the job I’ve been asked to do by the community.”

In one of several edits to his Facebook post, Cr Shaw said he needed to make it very clear he was “not having a go at staff on the ground at all” and not retaliating for their letter, “although I’m upset about that.” He said his remarks were directed at senior management who were responsible for facilitating change.

At the time of writing, Cr Shaw’s post had attracted 139 “likes” and 42 comments, one of which reads: “Stick it into the lazy pricks, make them accountable, if they don’t like it, see how they go in the private sector.”

Note: Appropriate punctuation has been added to the quoted Facebook posts, for the purposes of clarity. The mayor’s original statement can be read here.

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