Council management exodus

COUNCIL CHANGE: Mount Gambier City Council general manager city infrastructure Nick Serle has resigned from his role and will take a new position with Wattle Range Council. His departure will result in three vacant positions of council's executive leadership team.

By Raquel Mustillo

THE exodus of senior management staff at Limestone Coast councils has continued with three Grant District Council and Mount Gambier City Council’s top-ranking executives resigning from the authorities.

Long-serving Grant deputy chief executive officer Jane Fetherstonhaugh resigned last month after being stood down from her position in October due to misconduct complaints by council’s chief executive officer and the mayor. 

Ms Fetherstonhaugh’s official resignation follows the departure of council’s community development coordinator Jayne Miller, who was instrumental in the establishment of the Mount Gambier Regional Airport. 

Ms Miller has accepted a position as Naracoorte Lucindale engagement and community manager and will work alongside former colleague and council’s current chief executive Trevor Smart, who headed Grant District Council for almost six years from 2012 to 2018.

Applications for an executive assistant are currently open following the departure of another member for the executive team in December.

In a statement, Grant District Council confirmed Ms Fetherstonhaugh resigned from her position on December 23 and acknowledged her 12.5 years of dedicated service.

“…we wish her all the best in future endeavours,” the statement said.

On December 22, a special meeting was held to discuss a single item – proposed change to organisational structure – in confidence, citing legal matters and unreasonable disclosure of a person.

According to minutes, the matter related to information relating regarding the employment conditions and potential future employment of council employees.

The minutes said the disclosure of the information would be unreasonable because certain information is sensitive and confidential and was not a matter of public knowledge. 

Sources have indicated the deputy chief executive position has been made redundant and will not be filled.

Ms Fetherstonhaugh held the chief executive position for an interim period of almost six months following the sudden termination of former chief executive David Singe in April 2019. 

In December 2020, an investigation into councils’ confidential meetings revealed councillors offered Ms Fetherstonhaugh $175,000 to take on the position after she had declined two previous offers.

Ms Fetherstonhaugh previously told The Border Watch she would have accepted the position if the “non-negotiable condition” of committing to following the Charter of Agreed Behaviours which was adopted by council in June 2019.

When questioned on the deputy chief executive position, council’s chief executive officer Darryl Whicker said the matter concerning organisation was currently a confidential matter.

“Council’s statement on this matter has already been provided,” he said.

However, Mr Whicker said it was council’s intention to review and replace the community development coordinator with a similar position, with advertising to occur in coming weeks. 

In response to a question on whether there was an exodus of staff leaving council, Mr Whicker said there was no discernible difference in staff turnover from previous years and under previous administrations. 

Mount Gambier City Council general manager city infrastructure Nick Serle has stepped down from the role, leaving three out of four executive management team positions vacant.

It is understood Mr Serle has accepted a position at Wattle Range Council.

Combined with the resignation of former chief executive Andrew Meddle and general manager city growth Judy Nagy last year, Mr Serle’s exit comes as council pursues its biggest project in its history.

Originally touted as a $39.1m project, the Mount Gambier Community and Recreation Hub – now known as the Wulanda Recreation and Convention Centre – was announced by Mr Meddle in August 2020 as increasing to $57m.

Confidential documents obtained by The Border Watch showed a true project cost of $64m, with Mr Meddle ultimately conceding there are “two different costs” for the build, which was unable to be publicly released due to commercial sensitivities.

The position of general manager shared services has yet to be filled despite applications for the five year fixed term contract closing on July 27.

General manager community wellbeing Barbara Cernovskis has retained her role while serving as acting chief executive officer since Mr Meddle’s resigned 18 months into his contract.