Shire chief won’t fight for his job: Russell says he doubts he would receive a fair hearing

By Tyla Harrington

CAMPASPE Shire chief executive Jason Russell has announced he will not be reapplying for his position because he does not believe he will get a ‘‘fair hearing’’.

Last month council decided to advertise Mr Russell’s position after his four-year contract expires on May 12, which would mean Mr Russell would be unemployed while council tested the market — whether he was reappointed or not.

That process has been scrutinised and has split the council in two — with some of the councillors believing the move was the wrong one to make.

Mr Russell said ‘‘under the current leadership’’ he would not reapply.

‘‘I won’t be reapplying because my contract finishes on May 12 and the recruitment process won’t be starting until after that,’’ Mr Russell said.

‘‘Hence I am not an employee of council from May 12 so I can’t afford to be waiting for that process to be worked through.’’

Asked to elaborate on the current leadership, Mr Russell said the past 18 months had been ‘‘difficult’’.

‘‘And based on the way the resolution was constructed I don’t believe I would get a fair hearing,’’ he said.

A former Gannawarra Shire chief executive, Mr Russell said he did not want to comment further on the process council had taken.

In a statement, mayor Adrian Weston said council had agreed to a request from Mr Russell to finish on Friday, April 12 to ‘‘allow the recruitment process to be expedited in the best interests of the organisation’’.

‘‘Jason has also advised that he will not be reapplying to the CEO position,’’ he said.

‘‘Councillors have had some initial conversations around the appointment of an acting CEO and the community will be advised as soon as a decision is made.’’

In parting with the organisation, Mr Russell said the ‘‘amount of activity in the shire’’ was one of his highlights.

‘‘There’s been some big achievements with the bridge and getting the port process going,’’ he said.

‘‘There’s a lot of other infrastructure and it’s not all council and we’d never claim that but there is a lot of advocacy that goes on to get that activity happening, which I think has been great.

‘‘There’s been a huge amount of investment in our shire and the challenge now is to help capitalise on that ... but to see the vibrancy of our main towns has been encouraging but also the feedback we get from people outside our town in government and other councils.

‘‘Sometimes we get too close to understand how good we’ve got it.’’

Internally, Mr Russell said there had been ‘‘a lot of structural change’’ implemented in his time including council’s $9 million ICT (information and communication technology) program.

‘‘There’s a lot more e-services and people can do a lot more online ... it’s all about trying to allow the community to interact with council any time of the day and also making us more efficient in customer service,’’ he said.

‘‘We’ve really restructured our finances to help us be more sustainable.

‘‘From a governance point of view we have provided more information than we’ve provided before and that’s an ongoing process.

‘‘But it’s one of those things ... it’s a constant to ensure you keep improving.’’

As for the new chief executive, Mr Russell said she or he would have to keep an eye on finances particularly with council’s income capped under the Victorian government’s rate cap.

And as for where to from here, Mr Russell said that was yet to be decided.