THE secretive Huon Valley Council, in its customary oblique way, has told the people it is supposed to serve that it will not be renewing the contract of its long-time general manager, Geoff Cockerill.

Yet still there has been no official announcement, not even in the generous (and, presumably, gratis) space it gets each week courtesy of the quaint Huon Valley News under what surely must be a sarcastic (certainly ironic) logo that reads HUON VALLEY COUNCIL — Keeping you informed, the lettering flanked left and right by the council’s coat or arms. 

The rumour circulating statewide for weeks has been that, by October at the latest, Cockerill’s rule of a decade-and-a-half is to end.

Now, on the council’s online May 13 meeting agenda, the final item — listed for discussion in “closed council” (which means councillors’ secret stuff, not to be revealed to anyone under threat of dismissal as a councillor) — seems to confirm the gossip.

Now the question is: why should deliberation about establishing the “process” for appointing a GM be kept a secret from the people?

Surely ratepayers and residents of the municipality are entitled to know what the selection process will be, and how it is decided upon?

Obviously, any secrecy on such an issue can only foster suspicion about the motivation behind such an item.

Surely at least those with enough interest to sit in the public gallery — through often inane, almost always boring council meetings — should be allowed to hear what their elected representatives have to say on a matter so vital to the municipality’s future?

Is the council trying to hide something? From my reading of the state’s local government act, I can see no reason for discussion of a “process” to be in “closed council”. In fact, it might even constitute a breach of the act to list for secret discussion an item of such public interest.

But it does not surprise me. I have seen frequent examples of unnecessary council secrecy since I read last year the council’s brochure on the “HUON VALLEY 2020 Community Plan”.

These words stick in my mind: Good relationships are built in trust. Trust is a product of consistent, reliable and competent behaviours. Trust is needed between residents and council for a community to function well.

At the time, I found those words reassuring — it seemed things were about to change. Now they stick in my throat, as they should in the throat of every Huon Valley councillor.

I don’t have to go to my files to recall council behaviour that to my mind offends the altruistic sentiment of that statement.

Off the top of my head I can recall what I regard as secrecy, deceit, sheer bastardry and, of course, spin, on a variety of issues.

Despite the lofty ideals of the “HUON VALLEY 2020 Community Plan”, it looks as if council yet again intends to be furtive, this time about establishing the “process” to hire a GM (or, even, maybe — for all we out here in the municipality know — to reinstate the present one).

At this Wednesday evening’s monthly meeting in Huonville, all nine councillors (if there is a full attendance) will have an opportunity to declare their so-called commitment to transparency by voting to bring that “closed council” agenda item 21 out into “open council”. 

By doing so, they would allay fears that the council will not make every effort to advertise nationwide in search of the best managerial skills available to fill this vital post.

Councillors cannot be unaware that more and more residents of the Huon Valley are demanding transparency, disclosure, honesty and a willingness to communicate with they people they serve.

They should further realise that the make-up of council is likely to change quite markedly after the October local government elections.

Thus, it would be in the best interests of long-term management/councillor relations to appoint the present deputy GM as acting GM until the newly constituted (post-election) council selects the person of its choice.

As a Huon Valley ratepayer, I want to know:
— How a new manager is to be appointed
— Full details of the process of selection
— The identity of all people and organisations involved in the process
— That a professional expert and independent outside organisation will be hired to attract candidates of the highest calibre
— That another professional expert and independent outside organisation will be hired to assess all applications and whittle them down to a short list for council consideration
— That the position of GM will be advertised Australia-wide in the most suitable media (eg, Australian, Financial Review, Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Mercury . . .)
— That the final selection decision will rest with the councillors forming the council for the two years following the local government elections next October.

This should not be a wish list.

It should represent a gesture of respect by council to every ratepayer and resident of the Huon Valley.

To my knowledge, not one councillor on the HVC is competent to make an informed decision about the best person to run the council without the assistance of the best of “best practice” professional advice available.

After all the aforesaid, I might well be reading more into the council’s May meeting agenda item No. 21 than it intends to impart. The item is worded thus: Closed Council 21/005/09 Process for the Appointment of General Manager.

Perhaps the “closed council” stuff is simply all about fiddling at the edges or re-working the existing “process”, because, surely, there must be an existing “process”.

Although I may be mistaken even in thinking that the present GM has chosen to call it a day, or that he has been told he is no longer wanted, I do believe I’m not far from the truth in this latest round of the guessing game that our doggedly secretive council forces on residents of the Huon Valley. — Bob Hawkins

BOB HAWKINS

  Now the question is: why should deliberation about establishing the “process” for appointing a GM be kept a secret from the people? Surely ratepayers and residents of the municipality are entitled to know what the selection process will be, and how it is decided upon?