Special TWiSK #227
Long distance leadership @ Port Phillip
Questions are being asked about the decision by Council CEO Peter Smith to work for an extended period from his ‘other’ home in Adelaide.
TWiSK understands that Mr Smith has returned to his home in Adelaide at least twice since the State of Emergency was called in March. On both occasions he has sought to combine leave with periods of working remotely from his Adelaide residence.
Mr Smith is now in Adelaide and is not expected to return to Melbourne until Tuesday 18 August.
TWiSK submitted detailed questions directly to the Mayor last Wednesday. Her response and our questions are included in full later in this email.
Acting CEO Chris Carroll has also provided a response defending the efficiency of remote working. Interestingly, its also reveals that other staff are also working from interstate.
His statement is included in full – below.
TWiSK wonders how it is appropriate or possible for Mr Smith to cross the South Australian Border as he pleases.
But more concerning is the apparent reluctance of the CEO to return to Melbourne even after a State of Disaster was called on Sunday last week (2 August).
What’s the fuss, you might ask?
Yes, many of us are working remotely during the COVID restrictions.
And yes, they have the NBN in Adelaide too.
And yes, all the senior managers at Port Phillip are working from home.
But the declaration of a State of Disaster changes everything (as all Victorians know).
There are now compelling reasons to question the work from Adelaide location of the CEO and the process that has let this go on.
Here are just some of the most compelling reasons:
#1 Council CEOs have statutory duties
Under a variety of local government laws, the CEO has wide powers and significant statutory duties. These are especially relevant in times of emergency or disaster, where local governments play a crucial role.
Can these be effectively done remotely? Is it legal for this to be done?
#2 Local leadership needs local knowledge
How many times have we heard that we are all in this together, staying apart to stay together? We are all in this lockdown together: curfews, one-hour exercise limits, permits for this and that, travel limits and working from home. But not for Mr Peter Smith, CEO of Port Phillip Council, he’s experiencing it all second hand.
Can our CEO fully comprehend the local situation from Adelaide?
#3 Big decisions are being made right now
Just six weeks ago a draft Council budget was released. It included a substantial response to COVID. Since then a State of Disaster has been called and the local economic situation has changed even more dramatically than anticipated. Important decisions, with real consequences are being made by council officers right now.
Can Mr Smith fully understand the local impact of the second ongoing lockdown?
#4 We are paying for leadership.
The Port Phillip CEO is paid around $400K per annum. He heads a leadership team with salaries more than $10M pa.
Can his leadership be effective from Adelaide? Is remote leadership appropriate in a State of Disaster?
Here are our questions submitted on Wednesday 5 August.
Since the first declaration of state of emergency,
please provide dates for leave granted to CEO Peter Smith (including all forms of leave)
In the same period, can you please indicate the days where CEO Peter Smith was working remotely
Please specify the dates when the remote location was interstate or outside of Melbourne.
Please specify when CEO Peter Smith will be returning to Melbourne to work.
Please specify the decision process about granting this leave and the timing of the return.
Council response given to the Council meeting 5 August (in full)
Mayor Bernadene Voss offered this explanation at last Wednesday’s Council meeting:
“The CEO has resided in Melbourne since the beginning of his tenure at the City of Port Phillip. He has retained his family residence in South Australia as a residence for his adult children and currently his wife, who has returned from living in Melbourne with the CEO, to care for the family during this pandemic.
The CEO, like all Senior Managers at the City of Port Phillip has been working from his home in Melbourne since early March and has led the organisations successful response to the pandemic through working long hours over the last 5-6 months.
During the last 6 months the CEO has returned to South Australia twice to visit his family. During these two visits the CEO has continued to work from home for the City, with no loss of productivity, as well as taking some leave to spend time with his family. It is mark of the CEO’s dedication to the city that the CEO recently cancelled some of his leave to lead the organisations response to these most recent Stage 4 restrictions.
The CEO will return to Melbourne very shortly and will continue to work from home in Melbourne on his return.”
Supplementary response from Mayor Voss 7 August
“[Subject to flights] Peter will be back in Melbourne by 18th of August.
He will be online from Melbourne for the budget Council meeting.”
Supplementary media response from Acting CEO Chris Carroll 7 August
“The CEO, along with most other Council staff, and many Victorians, has been working remotely since stay at home directions were implemented.
This has predominately been from his Melbourne residence, although recently he has been working remotely from Adelaide, as approved by the Mayor on behalf of Council.
During this period, he has taken planned leave to spend time with his family, some of which was cut short as he responded to Victoria’s Stage Four restrictions.
The CEO will return to Melbourne by 18 August and continue working remotely.
Some other staff have been approved to work remotely outside of Victoria.
The major consideration is whether work can be effectively and efficiently completed remotely, not the geographic location.
We view remote working as a great opportunity to broaden our talent pool and attract and retain the best talent, not only in Melbourne, but from across Australia.
Remote working assists in reducing travel congestion and emissions, improving work-life balance, and providing greater employment opportunities for women.”