By Phil Jarratt
Noosa Council’s executive team and staff are in turmoil following the sacking of long-serving director of corporate services Michael Shave last Friday.
According to Noosa Today’s exclusive sources, who declined to be named, the highly respected Mr Shave, who was acting chief executive officer as recently as July while chief executive officer Brett de Chastel took holidays, was abruptly escorted from the Pelican Street chambers following his termination after almost eight years of working alongside Mr de Chastel, including the difficult period of reinvigorating Council after deamalgamation.
Mr Shave’s departure comes just a few weeks before Brett de Chastel’s retirement (with the new chief executive officer still to be decided) and following a run of high-powered staff exits in what some insiders are describing as the “toxic environment” at Pelican Street. Phrases like “thrown under the bus” have been heard in the corridors, following a long period over which staff have felt underpaid and under-valued while working harder than ever.
Some say recent perceived “blunders” like the STA rates hike and the handling of the Coastal Hazards Adaptation Plan have resulted in staffers facing the wrath of the public when it should be the councillors whose vote caused the problem. Noosa Today was told: “The feeling is that council makes a decision that’s not popular and the councillors, and even the CEO back away and point the finger at a staffer. It’s a perfect storm of negativity being met by staff bewilderment.”
But another view from inside the tent is that the overwork and discontent should be seen in a much broader context – the context of Covid. Noosa Council normally has a much lower staff turnover rate than the average, 6.6 per cent annually against the local government average of around 10 per cent, but the extraordinary pressures of a record workload have increased that substantially.
The source told Noosa Today: “We have a capital works program of $50 million when the organisation has the capacity to handle about half of that. To put that in perspective, pre-amalgamation the capital works program was more like $10 million. So everyone is working terribly hard. Then on top of that, Covid has triggered a construction boom, so there are a record number of applications coming into building and town planning, putting staff under incredible pressure.
“Covid generally has made people re-prioritise what they want out of life because they’ve been able to work from home and spend more time with their families. So we’ve had staff leave for private consultancy work where they can earn more and be the masters of their own destiny.”
The source said the exodus was also affecting Sunshine Coast and other SEQ councils.
Another source within Pelican Street disputed the circumstances of Michael Shave’s departure last Friday, saying the parting of the ways had been agreed by mutual consent several weeks earlier.
But yet another source said Mr Shave had expressed his disappointment as he left that “councillors are not hearing what’s happening”.
The mere fact there are so many versions of what happened is indicative that all is not exactly rosy in the garden. But the more pressing issue is that Council currently has an executive team – the group charged with the responsibility of making stuff happen – that gets more depleted by the day. While change brings renewal, the timing is not great.
Brett de Chastel’s replacement as CEO is expected to be announced in late October or early November, while the much-missed Kim Rawlings, director of environment and sustainable development, who has been on extended leave, will return soon but only part-time on light duties.
Noosa Today understands another new director with town planning qualifications will need to be appointed.