Amalgamation warrior recognised with PSM

Other notable public sector names in this year’s Australia Day Honours roll include:

  • Former Department of Health Secretary Glenys Beauchamp (AO)
  • Former federal minister and Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward (AO)
  • Former ASPI director Peter Jennings (AO)
  • Former ATSB  Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer Gregory Hood (AO)
  • Deputy Chief Medical Officer Sonya Bennett (AM)
  • Former Leeton Shire Mayor Paul Leeton (AM)
  • NSW Health Secretary Susan Pearce (AM)
  • Deputy NSW Health Secretary Deborah Lee Willcox (AM)

Gail Connolly once compared becoming CEO of the newly amalgamated Georges River Council to being drafted into the army and sent to a war zone.

Gail Connolly

Seven years on from her appointment, she prefers to describe her role as akin to a marriage counsellor.

“These days I prefer to think of it as being hired as the marriage counsellor to create harmony in an arranged marriage,” she told Government News.

A senior government official with more than 34 years in local and state government, Ms Connolly is one of 76 Australians awarded a PSM for her contribution to the public service as part of the Australia Day Honour Awards announced on Wednesday night.

She was awarded the medal for implementing reforms aimed at improving behaviours and good governance within the public service sector, in particular in managing the amalgamation of Georges River Council.

Amalgamation program

Ms Connolly was appointed Chief Executive (General Manager) of the new Georges River Council in May 2016 as part of the NSW Government’s council amalgamation program, tasked with tackling the systemic problems that existed between the former Hurstville and Kogarah City Councils and forging a new unified entity.

Of the 19 new entities created, Ms Connolly was the only external candidate to be appointed as general manager to a merged Council.

Under Ms Connolly’s leadership, Georges River Council was classified as a high performing showcase council for meeting deadlines and achieving performance indicators during the merger period, and it set the benchmark for a successful transition to an amalgamated entity.

Ms Connolly, who resigned from Georges River last year to launch a consultancy business, said it was a privilege to be recognised among the other outstanding public servants recognised in the awards.

Under her leadership, the council went from almost being sacked a few weeks prior to the merger, to being declared the best performing merged council in NSW within 18 months.

‘Exceptional challenges’

The organisation endured a combination of “exceptional challenges, Ms Connolly says, including an ongoing ICAC investigation into councillors, an ongoing Ministerial Performance Improvement Order issued to councillors, and a global pandemic.

As far as I am aware, these combined challenges have never been faced simultaneously by another General Manager in local government.

Gail Connolly

“As far as I am aware, these combined challenges have never been faced simultaneously by another General Manager in local government,” she says.

Under Ms Connolly’s leadership, rather than going under, the the organisation not only survived the challenges, but thrived, something she attributes to the talent and professionalism of her staff.

Georges River Council always ‘punched above its weight’ when it came to achievements, Ms Conlloy says, including service delivery, financial sustainability, the implementation of city-shaping works and a large scale capital works program.

More recently, Georges River partnered with NSW Health and the private sector to become one of the first and largest community vaccination providers during the pandemic.

 “I learnt that you can be whatever type of leader you want to be and must continue to evolve to meet the new leadership demands that operating an organisation throws at you,” Ms Connolly said.

“The extraordinary circumstances at Georges River meant that strong and resilient leadership was required on a daily basis.”

‘No need to reinvent the wheel’

Ms Connolly declined to give her verdict on the success of the merger policy, or whether it was the right road to go down.

But she has some advice for councils still struggling with the aftermath of amalgamation.

“I’d say to those councils still trying to implement their merger or struggling with the consequences, to talk to those merged councils who have had successes and adapt what they have done,” she says.

“There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Take advice from other merged councils, adapt whatever is useful and will work for your community and then monitor its implementation.”

Ms Connolly dedicated her award to the late former General Manager of Campbelltown City Council Paul Tosi (1947 – 2017).

The full list of PSM awardees can be found here.

This year’s awards list also includes a Covid 19 Honour Roll for the first time.

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One thought on “Amalgamation warrior recognised with PSM

  1. One performance indicator not achieved during the merger period was the Operating Performance Ratio. This ratio is an important measure as it provides an indication of how a Council generates revenue and allocates expenditure (e.g. asset maintenance, staffing costs). It is an indication of continued capacity to meet on-going expenditure requirements, and is considered by TCorp to be a core measure of financial sustainability.

    The benchmark of this key financial indicator is more than 0%. In the first year, the Council’s OPR was 11.33%, but deteriorated with operating deficits over the next five years: – 2.57% in 2018, – 2.90% in 2019, – 8.19% in 2020, – 3.75% in 2021 and – 1.97% in 2022 (though Council’s 2021/22 Financial Statements are yet to be audited, and that’s another story).

    Not quite financially sustainable yet. But not a surprise given the high staffing costs of the General Manager and her six directors and six media officers.

    *this comment has not been fact checked – GN

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