Inner West Independent

Inner-West Council chaos

CEO Michael Deegan has been placed on special leave from the Inner-West council. Photo: Flickr/LGMA National

By ALLISON HORE

The Inner-West Council is in search of a new Chief Executive Officer after months of tension and council infighting culminated in CEO Michael Deegan ending his contract.

Over two meetings within council on Tuesday and Thursday last week, Mr. Deegan negotiated with council to end his $440,000-a-year contract. The council resolved to put Mr. Deegan on special leave and he will no longer be serving as the CEO. He will also be prohibited from entering any council buildings which are closed to the general public.

The council’s Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Richardson has been appointed as acting CEO until someone can be found to permanently fill the role. Ms. Richardson will be the fourth chief executive since the council amalgamated in May 2016.

Last month, Mr. Deegan emailed the council’s 1600 employees to inform them he was intending to resign and was receiving union advice about negotiating the end of his contract.

Before being appointed the Inner West Council’s CEO in 2019, Mr. Deegan served as CEO of the South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. He was appointed to the role by the state’s Labor government in 2014 and was sacked in 2018 by the incoming Liberal government as part of their “reform agenda”.

But his stint as a public official in South Australia was controversial.

South Australia’s Ombudsman criticised Mr. Deegan’s use of public funds to purchase meals, alcohol and entertainment. The report also found Mr. Deegan guilty of misconduct in public administration for not making an effort to disclose a conflict of interest when he declined a freedom of information request into his own credit card spending.

“A member of the public could rightly question the public value arising from the use of departmental funds in such circumstances,” South Australia’s Ombudsman concluded.

“Save for in exceptional circumstances, I do not consider that it is appropriate for a public officer to consume alcohol in the performance of official functions.”

When the Ombudsman announced their misconduct finding in July last year, Labor mayor Darcy Byrne stood by Mr. Deegan. He said, “The CEO is doing an excellent job in the Inner West.”

Mr. Deegan has a longstanding relationship with the Labor party. He is a former staffer and was appointed by Anthony Albanese to be the first head of Infrastructure Australia.

It has not been smooth sailing for Mr. Deegan during his 19 months as the council’s CEO either. Before the resignation came to light, there were many reports of a strained relationship between Mr. Deegan and Mr. Byrne. The Sydney Morning Herald last week reported multiple sources within the local government claimed Mr. Deegan and Mr. Byrne hadn’t spoken in months.

During his time as CEO, Mr. Deegan had not been subject to a performance review but an anonymous source told the Herald “generally people were very happy with his work.”

But not everyone agrees. At the time of Mr. Deegan’s appointment, councillors John Stamolis, Vic Macri and Julie Passas presented a statutory declaration to the meeting outlining their concern that only three of the six councillors on the selection panel had backed his appointment.

Last month Liberal MLC Scott Farlow launched a scathing attack on Mr. Deegan and Mr. Byrne in the NSW upper house. Detailing Mr. Deegan’s alleged misconduct in his previous roles, Mr. Farlow said ordinarily “these types of findings would be the end of a public service career.”

“With a track record like that, where better for his mate Anthony Albanese to find him his next job than with his ex-staffer, Darcy Byrne, the Mayor of the Inner West Council. Hand-picked again to another CEO role by Labor,” said Mr. Farlow.

In reference to Mr. Deegan’s impending exit from his role as the council’s CEO, Mr. Farlow had this to say:

“According to the word on the street, funnily enough is now trying to negotiate himself a fat golden handshake to walk away from the council, just as the relationship between him and the mayor goes sour.”

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