Assessing the candidates for VLGA board election

February 6, 2011

Dear Readers,

The Victorian Local Governance Association board elections are on and last night (February 3) we had a three hour session of mingling, candidate presentations and Q&A in a sweltering room at the famous Green Building in Leicester St, Carlton.

Whilst credit rating agencies assign rankings to debt issuers, Triple J has its annual hottest 100 songs and AFL clubs have their annual "best and fairest" awards, there is no such formalised critiquing service available for local government councils. There should be.

The same problem applies with public company directors, which is why I've put together these lists of the top female and top male directors to help shareholders assess who they should vote for.

These lists are entirely subjective but they are informed by 20 years of analysing the performance of those in power across the business, political and media spectrums. In the case of business, the research has been assisted by asking questions at almost 400 public company AGMs over the past 13 years.

Moving into the local government ratings space

Today we're trying something new - an assessment of who should sit on the Victorian Local Governance Association board for the next two years. Voting opened yesterday and continues through until the end of next week.

The VLGA was founded in 1994 as a protest movement established by several sacked mayors and community groups during the Kennett revolution which ditched democracy for a couple of years and amalgamated 210 councils down to 79.

Moreland's Mike Hill was a driving force, but when it comes to representing the sector, the VLGA has always tended to play second fiddle to the Municipal Association of Victoria which is a body created by legislation and embedded in the sector through operations such as its large insurance business and comprehensive conference and training program.

However, the VLGA does do some great work in specific areas. For instance, they run a well-regarded "Maximising the Mayoralty" training weekend each January and I've been impressed with the working group on gambling which is co-ordinated by Darren Ray. The Leading Edge Forums have also been very well received.

Being a councillor at Manningham, it wouldn't be constructive or appropriate to start bagging individual candidates for the VLGA board. Equally, with the immediate past Manningham mayor Charles Pick standing as a candidate, it would also be awkward to do numbered rankings.

Therefore, after listening closely to the debate last night, this is the "dream team" board I would select if given the job.

Who should be President?

There were five nominees although only four are serious contenders after Kingston's Steve Staikos chose to attend the swearing in of another councillor last night. Whilst beaming in on the webcast for 3 minutes was okay, he wasn't there for the key Q&A session.

The four contenders were all strong performers. Samantha Dunn from Yarra Ranges would provide continuity as the incumbent Treasurer and handled the questions well. It would be great to have a female VLGA President, although the VLGA isn't exactly excessively blokey given the appointment of new CEO Maree McPherson and the fact that Rose Iser was President up until early 2010. Unfortunately, Samantha didn't also run for the board because, in a generous act, she wanted to maximise the prospects of fellow Yarra Ranges councillor Jeanette McRae. Therefore, it's President or nothing for Samantha which in a way might increase her support because she seemed well and truly up to the task last night.

Darebin's two time mayor Vince Fontanna presented as a Labor independent and is promising the biggest change agenda. Darebin only rejoined the VLGA late last year so it would be a big step to go from leading a non-member council to being President of the whole show in a few short months. However, I watched Vince chair three Darebin council meetings last year and thought he was both competent and diligent. As a candidate for both the board and President, Vince should definitely be supported for the board and after doing that for a couple of years, he could be a serious prospect for President in 2013.

Former Monash mayor Paul Klisaris was the other Labor presidential candidate, but he didn't also nominate for the board because he didn't realise this was an option. This highlighted the concern with parachuting someone in from outside right into the top position - especially a party political figure like Paul who has been known to get stuck into Liberals such as Malcolm Turnbull at public functions. Paul was clearly a dynamic and reforming mayor of Monash, but having the two immediate past Presidents who were Greens, maybe it is time for the VLGA to have a genuinely independent President to help deal with the new Coalition government.

Which brings us to immediate past Port Phillip mayor Frank O'Connor. Frank is not currently on the board but as he wrote in an email to voters this morning:

* With four terms as a Mayor, two at South Melbourne in pre-amalgamation days and having just finished two years as Mayor of Port Phillip, I know what local government leadership requires especially the way it needs to work hard on its relationships with State and Federal Governments

* I have no party political affiliations and have proven my ability to work with governments of all persuasions

* I've had deep involvement over more than 30 years in various community organisations so I understand the importance of their role in our communities and the key issues involved

* I was actively involved in the start-up of the VLGA in 1994 with people like Mike Hill, Tim Costello and Liana Thompson – I understand and have real empathy for the ethos of the organisation

* As a retired senior executive, I've got the time and I've also got the organisational skills and experience to add real value to the Board.

* And I've proven that I have the leadership skills - over the past two years, under my leadership and with my council colleagues, we have turned our municipality around and restored the confidence of the community.

In other words, here is a competent, experienced, respected, independent community leader who is coming in with a positive attitude and agenda and has the time to devote to the job. Most importantly, Frank demonstrated the accuracy and value of all of this in his words last night. He'd be my choice for President. If not President, he should definitely be supported for the board.

Selecting five current councillors to the board

There were 15 candidates for five spots and it was a high quality field, so we automatically excluded those who didn't show up to the forum. There were five Labor candidates pitching last night in the "current councillor" category and for political balance it would be appropriate to select no more than two of these three who are listed in alphabetical order:

Vince Fontana: a good mayor of Darebin as was discussed above.

Luba Grigorovitch: an up and coming Hobsons Bay councillor who demonstrated a commitment to the VLGA by joining before she was elected to council. Annoyed the factional heavies by initially stepping up and then strategically withdrawing from the Altona preselection contest when former Education and Transport minister Lynn Kosky retired. We're likely to finish with a majority of male directors so this genuine western suburbs councillor is also a good option for those interested in gender diversity.

Charles Pick: Manningham's energetic and well-connected Labor mayor in 2009 and 2010 who emerged much stronger from the experience. Part of his pitch is an ability to work with both sides. This certainly happened at Manningham when current Liberal Minister for Multi-cultural affairs Nick Kotsiras arranged his staffer Trish Drivas to be a running mate and preference provider to Charles at the 2008 Manningham election.

Supporting some incumbents for continuity

A good board always needs a blend of corporate memory and fresh energy so 2 or these three options should be returned for another term in the "current councillor" category:

Heinz Kreutz: the incumbent President is winding back due to work commitments but should be supported for another term.

John Doull: the incumbent vice-president should be supported as he is independent, competent and provides some regional balance being from Geelong.

Tim Rogers: the independent former Mornington Peninsula mayor is well liked and brings some levity to proceedings.

The options for fresh new talent

Christine Richards: My favourite option here. A real goer who has run her own legal practice, been a Law Reform Commissioner in two states, took a career change into journalism and broadcasting at the likes of 4 Corners and then ran for Frankston council as an independent in 2008 and was elected mayor in her second year, a sure sign of talent.

The next best option in the "non-Labor fresh talent councillor" category would probably be the youthful Sebastian Klein from Hepburn Shire who brings a farming and rural background and presented well during his three minutes last night.

Selecting 3 directors from 8 candidates in community category

Giving community groups and individuals one third of the board ensures the VLGA remains close to the community whilst the MAV tends to be very government and council focused.

There are eight candidates in this category and I'm pitching for two newcomers plus one incumbent as follows:

Warwick Leeson: the former Nillumbik mayor performed best in my view last night and is also the closest of any candidate to having what might be called a Liberal pedigree although he's both independent and community minded. Warwick is a straight talker with lots of energy and experience who would add plenty to the VLGA board.

Dr Clare Mouat: it would be good to have at least three women on the board and this Kiwi who teaches urban planning at Melbourne University did her PHD on community involvement in planning. An academic expert like Dr Mouat would be good for the skills mix on the board.

Richard Brown: has only served two years so far and doing a good job chairing the VLGA's Timor Leste Advisory Group.

In conclusion

A field of 28 candidates clearly reflects the growing momentum that the VLGA has and if you want more information, don't forget to check out all of the candidate campaign statements.

It will be interesting to see how this assessment goes down. Who knows, a Mayne Report endorsement could end up being the "kiss of death" for some of the players.

For those who weren't supported, can I stress it was an extremely high quality field which should not at all reflect on your own abilities.

Please don't go throwing wine at the next VLGA function and don't blame any suspected informers as these views were primarily determined by watching and listening closely at last night's candidates forum.

Finally, send any feedback to or if you'd rather do it anonymously, use this tips box.

And seeing as I don't have a full electronic copy of the VLGA membership list, candidates are welcome to use any of this content in their campaign emails which are currently deluging down on members as voting cranks up over the next few days. The link to the web version is here if you want to send that around.

Good luck to everyone and we'll update readers with an assessment of the results when they come through.

That's all for now.

Do ya best, Stephen Mayne

* The Mayne Report is a multi-media governance website published by shareholder activist, journalist and Manningham councillor Stephen Mayne with occasional email editions. To unsubscribe from the emails click here.