NEWCASTLE’S highest paid bureaucrats are refusing to tell the city’s elected councillors how much they earn, and are using a contested argument toconcealhow their salaries stack up against the rest of the state.
The Newcastle Heraldunderstands Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes and some of her senior staffers have been at loggerheads for months because the council’s top brass are blocking access to a ratepayer-funded report that benchmarks staff salaries against other NSW councils.
The issue came to a head last month when the interim chief executive, Peter Chrystal, blocked a Labor-Greens notice of motion that called for a “confidential councillors workshop” that would “providean overview of the [benchmarking report] with particular focus on the performance of Newcastle City Council against other similar sized councils”.
In a memo sent to councillors and seen by the Herald,Mr Chrystal said he wouldn’t allow the notice to go ahead because even providing “an overview or any type of verbal revelation of what is contained within the report” would constitute a “release of commercial in confidence information”.
The memo came on the back of legal advice sought by the senior staff in September last year that stated providingthe report to councillors would be a“breach of copyright” of the report’s author, the industry group Local Government NSW.
But Local Government NSW –a lobby group for councils – has contradicted that. A spokeswoman toldthe Heraldthat once the benchmarking report was purchased “they are owned by the commissioning council”.
“LGNSW has no objection to the release of the report within the council,” the spokeswoman said.
Theissuehas earned the ire of the Labor-Greens dominated council, who say staff are seeking to block proper transparency.
In an email sent to Mr Chrystal by Labor Councillor Declan Clausen and seen by the Herald, the Labor councillor said he was “concerned that councilhas been provided with advice aimed at limiting councillors’ ability to undertakestatutory duties in relation to the performance of the organisation and senior staff”.
Cr Clausen also obtained advice from the acting chief executive of the Office of Local Government, Tim Hurst.
Mr Hirst told Cr Clausen that while he did “not hold all the relevant information” and hadn’t seen the council’s legal adviceit was “not immediately obvious on what grounds the council’s resolution could, on its face, be considered to be unlawful”.
The council’s latest annual report shows the city’s 19 highest-paid stafferscost ratepayers a combined $3.3 million. However the regulation does not require the individual pay packets of senior staff to be disclosed publicly.
Last year the state government amended the local government Actto remove the requirement forgeneral managers to report annually to council on senior staff contract conditions on the basis thatall such staff are now employed on standard contracts.