How Bruce Anson appears to have a job for life

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Warrnambool City Council chief executive officer Bruce Anson is poised to be appointed for another three years, without the position being advertised. Image: ABC Radio.

Analysis – Carol Altmann

As anyone who has ever been hired on a contract knows, there is no guarantee you won’t have to compete for your job when that contract ends: except if you happen to be the Chief Executive Officer of the Warrnambool City Council.

As was announced by way of a public notice yesterday (15/8/15) CEO Bruce Anson is set to be reappointed for a third consecutive term on a salary package close to $300,000, although this time it will be for three years from January 2016 rather than the usual four, taking him up to 2019.

All up, Mr Anson will have been CEO for 11 years and employed by the council in various capacities for more than 20 years.

Since Mr Anson took up the CEO’s position in 2008, it has never have been advertised.

While some might argue this gives a council stability, others, like Bluestone, would argue it also stifles any chance of bringing fresh thinking into the council’s top job and ensuring that the city still has the best person in that powerful role.

Mr Anson might well be that person, but surely Warrnambool deserves to be able to throw open the doors and see what other talent might be out there, while also, of course, encouraging Mr Anson to apply.

This happens all the time at the most senior levels of the public service, and at the top level of the higher education sector, so why isn’t it happening here?

The answer is astonishing.

By law, a council can choose to either reappoint its CEO, or re-advertise the position: these two options are always on the table every time a CEO’s contract comes up for renewal.

But Bluestone has learned that the highly secretive review committee that oversees the assessment of the CEO’s performance and recommends what should happen at the end of each contract, has categorically ruled out advertising as an option.

In fact, Bluestone has learned, the performance development review committee says to expect Mr Anson to apply for his own job is an implausible scenario.

The committee also believes that advertising the role would be “a very remote and unlikely possibility” and the only way it could happen is if the council no longer wanted Mr Anson to be in the role.

In other words, under this system, Mr Anson could have a job for life, as long as he wants it.

That is some rare air in today’s world.

The majority of the review committee – made up of Mayor Michael Neoh, Cr Jacinta Ermacora and Cr Kylie Gaston, with Rod Coutts as the independent chair – justifies this approach because, despite what the law says, councils apparently do this all the time: only advertise the CEO’s role if the CEO is leaving.

Maybe they do, but that doesn’t make it right.

Ballarat City Council has this month been grappling with the very same issue, with up to four of the nine councillors in favour of making sure CEO Anthony Schink’s position was advertised.

It wasn’t, and a majority of councillors (although we don’t know how much of a majority) recently voted to sign on Mr Schink on for another three years.

With the way the numbers currently fall at the Warrnambool City Council, the recommendation to reappoint Mr Anson for another three years on around $300,000 a year will also be passed by a narrow majority of 4/3.

It’s great work, if you can get it.


7 thoughts on “How Bruce Anson appears to have a job for life”

  1. To say ” In other words, under this system, Mr Anson could have a job for life, as long as he wants it” is not correct.

    Technically Mr Anson’s contract can, like most other contracted employees, be renewed on an ongoing basis as long as he meets the requirements of the contract. The decision to renew the contract belongs solely to the employer. If it was a ” job for life”, he would have to be on a permanent contract, which he is not. Objective reporting please!

    1. Hi Sharon,
      You are right – a permanent contract is certainly a job for life, but the point we are making is that to not open up the position to wider advertising unless the current person in that position decides to leave, retire etc is technically the same thing.
      As we point out, Warrnambool City Council is not the only council grappling with this issue.
      Thanks for your feedback.
      – Carol

  2. yes Carol i guess the WCC does have the right to re advertise the job, but if they are satisfied with the employees work why would they, A 4 year contract merely allows a council to not renew if the employee has an unsatisfactory work record. I think you logic is wrong on this one. Industrially it would be unfair and unreasonable. There would be howls of disapproval if the practice you suggest was introduced across the workforce of Victoria – and rightly so. The remuneration amount is irrelevant to the argument I think

    1. Hi Pat, I am glad we can agree to disagree! What astonished me the most was the decision that to consider advertising the position was seen as implausible and simply wouldn’t happen.
      I don’t agree that it should be implausible, but an option if the council wanted to use it which is exactly what the Local Govt Act allows and which should be on the table irrespective of who holds the position.
      As I say, this does happen in other industries, where people in government positions, in particular, apply for their own jobs when the contract is due for renewal.
      The remuneration is mentioned because, as you know, we have tried many times to find out exactly what the CEO position pays, but this has not been revealed. It is just a reminder of what ‘bracket’ the position is in.
      All good for discussion and debate, which is what Bluestone is all about!

  3. The point is he is not doing a good job! He is doing a terrible job! And even IF he was doing a fantastic job, then wouldn’t he blow other candidates out of the water at interview? He should want to benchmark his performance. What is he worried about? Look at the names on that review panel! Now compare it to the ever so predictable, damaging 4/3 votes that constantly occur.
    However, I believe there is a very strong swell against the farce that is our Council and the voters will speak next year. We need to get our city moving forward… as we all deserve. (edited)

  4. Some sort of performance report would perhaps be justified so those making the decision “not to advertise” are doing it on a sound basis. Perhaps if Mr Anson wanted to apply for a job elsewhere it would be nice for him to have a record of his performance. Most organisations have Annual Reviews – even if it is/was a permanent appointment – just so they know how everyone has been performing and what their needs might be so everything runs as best it can. No good finding out after someone has gone to a better appointment what was lacking.

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