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Huon Valley Guessing Games A remarkable insight into manoeuvrings behind the scenes at Huon Valley Council (HVC) arrived by email at Tasmanian Times last week. It was from Marcia Waller, who was council’s “manager community services” until some time in July, when, she says, she was “forced into an involuntary redundancy”.

As HVC observers have come to expect, not a hint of the manner of Waller’s removal has leaked from council apart from an entry in its August meeting documents that lists her as a “departure” (no explanation).

As ratepayers and residents of the Huon Valley, we are entitled to expect better than this from an organisation that is supposed to be a servant of the people, and which, ad nauseam, prattles on and on about “transparency”.

Now Waller, her links with HVC severed, has chosen to speak up. Her statement below is prefaced by these words: “Before now, as an employee of Huon Valley Council, I was unable to speak to the press, but that restriction no longer applies. I would appreciate it if you would copy my statement to Mr Bob Hawkins, as I do not have his contact details. I appreciate his insightful articles about Huon Valley Council.”

Here is the Waller statement:

As I have been forced into an involuntary redundancy, I would like to rectify the misconceptions surrounding my departure from the position of community services manager at Huon Valley Council in July 2013.

After I lodged a complaint of bullying and intimidation to council in October 2012, the general manager, Glenn Doyle, and I were stood down. Council commenced an internal investigation through their lawyers. Workplace Standards Tasmania also commenced an independent
investigation. 

In April 2013, when the former general manager resigned, Workplace Standards Tasmania ceased their investigation, before they had completed interviews, under oath, with the general manager, mayor and most of the senior managers. 

This premature termination of the investigation denied me the opportunity to have an impartial and truly independent report into my complaint. 

Also, in April 2013, council adopted a “service review”. The service review targeted only three areas of council: community services, youth services and natural-resource management, the latter two to a minimum extent. This service review recommended the abolition of the community services department, and this has now occurred.

As one of the most experienced director/managers of community services in Australia, I can categorically state that this extraordinary decision will severely affect the delivery of these important services to the
Huon Valley community, which, quite frankly, ought to be outraged.

At the Finance and Risk [Management] Committee held on April 3, 2013, council was informed that at March 31, 2013, actual salaries were $409,572 underspent. This was more than the amount council was proposing to cut from the 2013-14 budget, and could, in my opinion, have been put in a reserve to cover future costs and delay cuts to these important services to the community.

As a result of the “service review”, I was forced into an involuntary redundancy. Consequently, due to the actions of council over the nine months since lodging my complaint, I am no longer employable. 

My career of 20 years in senior local government management has been cut short by many years. I have been forced to consider legal action against Huon Valley Council for victimisation.

I believe the council made my position redundant and, therefore, terminated my employment not for genuine reasons but because I made a complaint against Doyle.

Marcia Waller
Franklin
September 12, 2013

AS WELL as providing one side to the story of the management crisis that council obviously has done its darnedest to keep from public view, Waller’s statement suggests there was an ulterior motive behind HVC’s so-called cost-cutting tactics in the weeks before drawing up its 2013-14 budget. At the time, it seemed there was more than met the eye to council’s department-specific service review.

If you listened to Mayor Robert Armstrong’s argument, council’s financial position was dire. He rabbited on incessantly about the threat to revenue because of the impending forests agreement and a potential loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in rates revenue from forestry titles that would become part of reserves. But when questions were raised as to why the review had been constrained to only three areas, there was no response apart from a bit of the usual bluster and stonewalling.

Whatever the merits of that line of council spin, little did any outsider suspect that a hidden agenda in the service review might have been to enable council to position itself to handle, secretly of course, an embarrassing situation that had the potential to expose less than edifying behaviour within council. By the time the service review was adopted, Doyle had left the scene. (He is now employed by Hobart City Council.)

In a March 28 media release, the mayor announced that Doyle had been “cleared” of Waller’s allegations by an “independent” inquiry conducted by a Hobart law firm hired by council.

Doyle, welcoming the internal inquiry’s findings in the same release, said that, despite having been cleared, he had chosen to resign and “explore other opportunities” (see: http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/glenn-doyle-goes-questions-linger/ ).

Marcia Waller, it seems, had become a problem for the council. Though she was not accused of having done anything wrong, she remained stood down on full pay. What was council to do with her? The solution, it seems, lay in that highly selective “service review”.

As Waller says, council’s budget cuts — imposed on the strength of the findings of the review, and highly damaging to a variety of services — could easily have been avoided if the unspent money in the budget salaries allocation had been redirected.

Every now and then, forthright (and apparently well informed) statements have appeared as comments on my ‘Huon Valley Guessing Games’ contributions to Tasmanian Times over the past five years ( Bob Hawkins’ archive here: http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php/category-article/88 ). Sadly, they have rarely been supported by their authors’ real names.

One comment by SmokeNMirrors in response to my September 7 article on the appointment of Simone Watson as council’s new general manager — http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/weblog/article/acting-gm-gets-hvcs-top-job/ — seemed to have an air of authenticity about it. Normally one wouldn’t attach much significance to an anonymous view, but, considering that the opacity of council is as dense as ever, this one is worth giving another outing.

Inter alia, SmokeNMirrors wrote on September 11: So many staff have left that organisation [HVC] . . . and many more are sure to follow. There are a lot of unhappy campers at that place who trawl the job pages and websites every day hoping, just hoping, for something to pop up . . . I have heard many reports that staff morale is probably as low as it gets and that there is very little trust and communication . . . Everyone’s favourite word at the moment, ‘transparency’, pops up, too. Do they know the meaning of it? It is thrown around like other golden words such as consultation, collaboration and sustainability . . .

Waller has shown guts in taking a public stand against council’s handling of yet another unsavoury episode in its two-decade history. It is to be hoped her action will encourage others to venture forth and help lift the wraps on other council mysteries.

Waller’s statement is not a case of delayed whistleblowing. It simply is yet another example of a wronged public servant — and, as is so often the case in our still heavily male-dominated world, women — speaking out against unjust treatment.

And, unless council can come up with a persuasive explanation of its handling of the Waller-Doyle episode, it looks very much as if Waller will remain yet another victim of a state-wide secretive form of bureaucratic oppression by a system that is anything but democratic.

That so few critics of HVC are willing to disclose their identity is symptomatic of the fear sensed by critics at state and local government levels in Tasmania. People may be eager to point out what they see as wrongs, but most don’t want to be identified.

With Watson in a strictly acting capacity as general manager after Doyle stood down last October, she would have had no role, other than advisory, in deciding on tactics to deal with the Waller-Doyle crisis. As a public servant, her primary duty — as it remains — was to carry out council’s directions and keep its administration running efficiently.

Which has had me wondering how the Doyle-Waller crisis strategy evolved. No one wants to know the details of what went on between Doyle and Waller that culminated in both leaving council, but we should be concerned that each has been treated fairly. From the evidence available so far, this does not seem to have been case with Waller. (There has been no public complaint from Doyle.)

The big unanswered question now is this: why was the Workplace Standards Tasmania inquiry abandoned? That neither Waller nor Doyle is employed by HVC is no reason for Waller’s complaint not to be investigated to the fullest extent possible by an independent body in no way behoven to council.

Instead, with the WST inquiry abandoned, Waller remains in limbo, having been denied a fair hearing of the complaints she lodged. Worse, she now sees herself as unemployable. Council’s own self-described “independent” investigation of her allegations should have no credibility among reasonable people.

Another point that emerges from this sorry story is council’s failure to keep the community informed. My sense is that the Huon has a council that either doesn’t give a damn about such niceties, or is oblivious of the need to pay respect to the democratic principles (as illusory as they are) on which all forms of Australian government are supposed to be based.

Down the years of watching governments of all hues at work, I have noticed that, more often than not, the facts about questionable behaviour in secret places tend ultimately to seep to the surface. Waller’s statement — another encouraging sign that, eventually, the entrails will be out there for public scrutiny — reminds me, yet again, that Leonard Cohen got is so, so right: There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. — Bob Hawkins

• Bluey Too, in Comments: Dear Bob Hawkins, Please, please, please will you come and shine a light on the HCC.