City boss urges fearful Ipswich council staff to speak out
INSIDE the region's highest office the stale walls are without memorabilia and a large glass cabinet is free of espresso cups.
There is no salesman in this room, nobody put there by the people.
Sitting in the centre of the old Ipswich mayor's office is city administrator Greg Chemello.
He comes to Ipswich after 35 years in the public and private sectors, including at Economic Development Queensland and the Department of Local Government.
Like most of Queensland, he watched on for more than one year, stunned at the string of charges laid against Ipswich City Council-linked people.
Those charges resulted in the dismissal of the council Mr Chemello has now been tasked to clean up.
For 19 months he will wield the power of 11 councillors.
As demonstrated during last week's two-minute council meeting, he can set the direction of the city in moments.
Mr Chemello has described his first two weeks in the role as a whirlwind.
"The resilience of a lot of the council staff has been an amazing thing to me," he said.
"They're people who have gone through a lot of pain and angst."
He said some of the stress came from the uncertainty within the past three months and "a long history of a culture that was explained pretty well in that CCC report".
Before he looks to the future Mr Chemello wants to sever ties with the past.
Staff who were previously fearful of raising concerns have been told now is the time.
"Bring out your dead," he said, referring to the classic Monty Python scene.
"Bring out those old issues and let's deal with them now."
"I don't want that to pop-up in 15, 16 or 17 months time when I'm ready to go out the door and I can't do anything about it."
In the next few months, there will be a progressive review of all the council's governance policies, procedures and arrangements.
While responding to the past, Mr Chemello and his advisors will move to insulate the council from future decisions.
He hopes to mould a resilient organisation, with policies for good governance.
"Like any local government election, incoming councillors inherit the culture of the organisation," he said.
"If any poor behaviour starts from any future councillors from day one, report (it) and we need to have a confident organisation that will do that."
On Tuesday Mr Chemello officiated an Australian Citizenship ceremony, which he says was one of the most rewarding things he has done.
It was one of several events that have given him an opportunity to get his ear to the ground and hear from the community. He said feedback received so far - although not put as bluntly - was that people just wanted the council to "go away and do your job".
Mr Chemello insists the job is not to be the community's visionary leader.
While he is legislatively obliged to act for the long-term benefit of the community, Mr Chemello insists he is not the mayor. "I'm not going to go out and craft a vision as an incoming mayor properly would," he said.
"Doing visionary workshops might make people feel good but I think what the bulk of the community wants in a sense is good, solid local government."
He said the council's waste-to-energy work would remain proactive, with an announcement expected within months.
"I really do think we could be a leader in waste-to-energy," he said.
"We can turn an environmental problem into an environmental asset and we can turn it into an economic asset.
"A lot of readers would think that's going to be people's rubbish going in and big plumes of black smoke coming out. That's not what we're about."
He has only been in the top chair for two weeks, but Mr Chemello insists he is aware of the short time he has in the role.
"We need to make some big decisions and we need to make them the right way," he said.
Mr Chemello said community patience for reviews will wear thin, but insists due-diligence must be done.
"I don't want to replace imperfect governance with more imperfect governance," he said.