Councillor concerned by Lavelle dismissal

COUNCILLOR Ian Hogbin may be the chairman of Coffs Harbour City Council's Corporate Services Committee, but he says he has no idea why the council's former long-serving director of corporate business and assistant GM was sacked on April 18.

Nor does he know what were the allegations made against Kyme Lavelle that apparently preceded the move and saw him suspended from his duties for two months, after 30 years of service with the council.

Cr Hogbin said if the allegations related to long-standing matters, he had further concerns, because he understood Mr Lavelle's annual performance review in late 2007 was positive.

Mr Lavelle was acting general manager during January 2008 while the general manager Stephen Sawtell was on holidays.

Mr Lavelle was suspended on February 20.

Cr Hogbin says he is not satisfied with the information provided to councillors and information does not equal consultation.

The Local Government Act says councillors should be consulted on such matters but the Mayor Cr Keith Rhoades said last week that giving councillors information on the process undertaken satisfied the 'consultation' requirement of Section 337 of the Local Government Act.

Cr Hogbin disagrees.

He obtained independent legal advice from a firm of experienced local government lawyers, which was that councillors should be consulted on the matters giving rise to the possibility of dismissal.

Cr Hogbin said he believed that part of the Act was there for a reason, as a safeguard, enabling senior council staff to speak their minds and to disagree with the general manager over issues, rather than simply being 'yes-men' who could have their jobs terminated on the whim of one man.

He also has concerns over the possible cost to council.

"I don't know what the cost to council will be and that concerns me," Cr Hogbin said.

"We had a management plan out there and I would have thought this would constitute a budget variation and if there is a budget variation by council staff, we should be required to approve it before it happens," Cr Hogbin said.

Cr Ian Ovens, a member of the Corporate Services Committee, said councillors did not need to know the reasons for Mr Lavelle's dismissal, which was a staff matter for the general manager.

He said the role of councillors was as 'a little bit of a scapegoat and a sounding board' as well as about strategy and governance.

He said the issue was a distraction from councillors' job of making the city grow and prosper and its prominence could also be reflecting the fact it was a council election year.

Cr Ovens said although he was not fully aware of the reasons for Mr Lavelle's dismissal, he was quite happy with everything the general manager had done and he was 'a bit surprised' by the level of interest in the matter.

He said this was the fourth director whose contract he had seen not renewed or terminated under two different general
managers.

He dismissed concerns over the interpretation of Section 337, saying legislators were 'having a bob each way'.

He said senior staff already discussed things 'very vigorously' all the time.

Cr Ovens said councillors always had the opportunity to ask questions and while he was aware some were not satisfied with the answers they received, they could pursue the matter with the general manager.

"The general manager is reviewed constantly, his door is always open and the Mayor is one of the big conduits," Cr Ovens said.


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