Logan City Council has sacked its CEO Sharon Kelsey, who was appointed only in June 2017 after an intensive nationwide search. The council has refused to give any reasons for her termination, and Ms Kelsey herself has said she cannot comment for legal reasons.
The Council meeting that decided on the move ended in uproar as ratepayers and staff in a packed public gallery were ejected from the chambers before the vote was taken. Seven councillors voted for Ms Kelsey to be sacked, with five opposing. Mayor Luke Smith, who is under investigation for corruption, had absented himself.
The sacking is the latest episode in a tumultuous two years for Logan City Council. She replaced Andrew Milner, who had been in the job only seven months when he and his deputy John Oberhardt resigned. Mr Milner, a former army officer and Rio Tinto director, said he wanted to return to the private sector, but it is generally agreed there was much more to it than that.
Ms Kelsey was previously Executive Director of Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC). She is a lawyer by training and was a barrister before joining IBAC. She was CEO of Glenelg Shire Council in Adelaide for four years and is a former South Australian police officer.
She was hired as CEO after Logan City Council became one of the Queensland councils being investigated by Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) as part of Operation Belcarra, initiated after concerns about the possibly corrupt behaviour of many councillors in the 2016 Queensland local government elections. Other councils being investigated are Gold Coast, Moreton Bay, and Ipswich.
Mayor Smith is being investigated by the CCC over allegations he attempted to influence council decisions on development applications that would benefit donors to his 2016 election campaign. He set up a company called Logan Futures to handle the campaign funds, which totalled nearly $400,000.
Logan City Council, which takes in the southern suburbs of Brisbane and stretches down to the Gold Coast, is one of the largest in Australia, with over 300,000 residents.
ABC News has reported that “a tearful Ms Kelsey declined to comment as she hugged staff and supporters.” It also quoted Councillor Darren Power, who voted against Ms Kelsey’s dismissal:
“This is a disaster. We’ve just taken Ipswich off the front page, now we’re the laughing stock of south-east Queensland. I don’t know why she was sacked — councillors have never expressed to me why she was sacked.”
He said she was popular with the staff and the community.
The Council’s statement was short and said very little. Conspicuously absent was any reason for Ms Kelsey’s dismissal:
“A special meeting was held today by Logan City Council regarding the employment agreement between Council and Chief Executive Officer Sharon Kelsey.
“Council’s decision was in relation to Ms Kelsey’s six-month probationary period where it was decided she would not be appointed to the role of CEO. Council’s longest serving member of Executive Leadership Team, Mr Silvio Trinca (Director, Road and Water Infrastructure), has been appointed Interim CEO, effective immediately until a suitable replacement is found.
“The special meeting was chaired by Acting Mayor Cherie Dalley with all divisional councillors present. Mayor Luke Smith was not present and did not participate in the vote.
“Council will not be making any further comments in relation to this matter.”
They maintain the fiction that she was not technically sacked, because she was on probation.
Who will be Logan’s next CEO? Not counting people acting in the position, they will be the fourth in less than four years. Many will see it as a career-limiting choice. It certainly appears they will be handed a poisoned chalice.
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