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Safe Pair of Hands
Safe Pair of Hands - Meet Wagga Council’s new Acting General Manager Michael McMahon
By: Jonathan Temporal
The smooth transition in the management of Wagga Wagga City has been achieved through the appointment of Local Government veteran Michael McMahon as Acting General Manager last 1 November 2007.
Mr McMahon has 27 years of experience in Local Government – as General Manager of Waverly Council for 10 years, General Manager of Ryde City Council for 4 years and, until recently, General Manager of the City of Canada Bay. He is also currently the Chairman of the Board of Australian Heath Management, the 8th largest private health fund in Australia and has undertaken consultancy work for councils. He has a strong background in Finance, Corporate Governance and General Management.
The family man and father of 4 believes that with his extensive experience in Local Government, personal skills and attributes, and commitment to his role, he will be able to serve the Council and the Community well. “I’m a person that gives a serious dedication to the role that I perform…I’m an energetic and…persuasive person. I like to work with people, I’m a people person….these qualities will help me (in) getting through and getting into the jobs that I like to do,” he says.
While Mr McMahon’s appointment is a positive development for the city, as it ensures a smooth transition of leadership within the office of the General Manager, both he and Council are expected to face some turbulent times ahead as they attempt to successfully navigate through both internal and external issues.
Mr McMahon assumes leadership of a council staff whose morale has suffered an all time low in recent months. This is something that the Mr McMahon himself acknowledges and appreciates. “Look, I’d say that the staff were quite upset and naturally so - they’re going through and have been going through a grief process when they love their General Manager (in) these circumstances, it does take them a bit of time to spring back,” says Mr McMahon. However, he is quick to add that “I know that (with) the professionalism of the staff here, they will spring back very quickly.”
Another important issue facing Council is the mounting frustration of both business and private individuals with obtaining reasonable process times for development applications, for both land and building developments.
Some local developers have complained about the delay in the processing of development applications, the lack of progress in council’s development of a new local environment plan (LEP) and lack of access to council staff who can address these delays.
Aware of council’s development planning woes, the DLG requested the Minister for Planning to consider revoking Wagga Wagga City Council’s planning powers and appoint a planning administrator or panel to determine development applications until such time as the council’s new LEP is adopted.
Within days of Mr McMahon’s appointment, Council received the bad news: it had been stripped of its approval rights for developments valued over $10 million, which were now being transferred to an external panel. Adopting the DLG’s recommendation, former Planning Minister Frank Sartor announced that he will appoint a panel of three to assume some of council’s planning responsibilities.
Among the planning responsibilities that will be assumed by the panel are certain changes of land use, developments that exceed certain height or floor space and the preparation of a new LEP. Mr Sartor was reported as saying that mums and dads deserve a planning system which works efficiently in a timely way. One of the things that tipped the Minister’s hand was the 200 outstanding planning matters already submitted to Council, dating back to 1997.
Forced to comply with the Minister’s directive, Council has unanimously agreed to adopt a $100,000 budget to pay for the hiring and administration costs for the new panel.
Although the Mayor Pascoe said that the appointment of a new panel will not be impede council’s ability to process applications, it remains to be seen whether this will in fact speed up council’s bogged down development planning and approval process. In the meantime, Mr McMahon has assured that this issue is being actively addressed by Council. He disclosed that job offers have been made to four town planners, three have already signed on and will start in January.
Other problems inherited by Mr McMahon as detailed in the DLG Section 430 report include council’s project management and its perceived inability to get projects off the ground within budget; the deteriorating relationships between the elected representatives of council (individually or collectively), senior council officers and council staff, which has prevented the provision of efficient, effective and appropriate standards of governance for Council; non-fulfillment by councilors of roles and responsibilities under the Local Government Act of 1993 failure to adequately carry out their responsibilities in the best interests of all ratepayers and residents; erosion of the community’s confidence and support in the council particularly in relation to its capacity to deliver services and facilities to the local community in accordance with the council’s charter; and other administrative problems like procedural inadequacies in council’s record management system.
True to his pro-active, hands-on approach to management, Mr McMahon said that he would read the Section 430 report and believed that the DLG’s recommendations were already being implemented.
Optimistic in the face of these inherited problems, Mr McMahon affirmed his faith in council, and in its ability to work together with the community to solve the problems outlined in the Section 430 report. “This is a great council, it’s a great group of people who work for the city. And I say to the community, I can only see positive signs going forward…a great opportunity for the Council going forward in relation to ensuring that they get the right type of services out there.”
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