NEW state-wide research will determine if local government CEOs are subject to undue stress and how they can receive better mental health support.
The catalyst for the research was Shayne Silcox, who retired as Melville council CEO after 10 years of service in July.
He contacted Local Government Professionals, telling the peak body for council CEOs and managers that bullying and inappropriate behaviour from ratepayers and “infighting” between council factions was making council CEOs ill.
“I’ve never seen it as bad as this, across so many local governments,” Dr Silcox told the Herald.
“I’m hoping the research will give us a voice.”
“I’ve come out about my story because I’m semi-retired and there are others still working who will be suffering.”
The study, a collaboration between the University of WA and LG Professionals, will start in November and is expected to be completed by July next year, with a potential follow-up study in four of five years.
LG Professionals CEO Candy Choo says she spends most of her time looking at “the issues and unfortunate circumstances around relationships between council CEOs, administrative staff, community members and groups”.
Ms Choo says the research will determine how to provide better support and protection for council CEOs, while “ensuring they are still engaging with communities and elected members, but feel secure”.
“It’s around whether we need to provide resilience training or training on how to work better with other elected members, or community engagement training … we want to address the fundamental issues of the system.”
She says while the role of a CEO can be stressful in any sector, local government CEOs suffer particularly due to public scrutiny and the 24/7 nature of their work.
“Local government members are very reachable,” she says.
“They become easy targets particularly in a small community, when you can’t even go down to the local IGA and get a carton of milk without people tapping you on the shoulder and asking what’s happening.”
Ms Choo says state and federal parliamentarians are a little harder to reach: “You aren’t going to fly to Canberra and complain to the prime minister”.
She says while some people might say “with that salary, suck it up and deal with it”, some behaviours are inappropriate no matter how much you earn.
She referred to city staff who are having to deal with troublesome community members outside of work hours and sometimes even on their own properties.
Ms Choo says that for every council conflict reported, LGP is dealing with another three or four.
“Sometimes you think you’ve heard the worst, and then you hear more.”
She says sometimes community groups aren’t actually representative of the community as a whole and often its the voices of minority groups that are heard very loudly, when “average punters are probably really happy with local government, but not quite enough that you’d go and fight against those vocal minorities”.
by MOLLY SCHMIDT