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City’s exiting CEO warns of “even more challenging” times ahead

August 30, 2023 8:11 am in by
Geelong Council's recently departed acting-CEO Kaarina Phyland (City of Greater Geelong).

Geelong council’s exiting CEO says the city faces “more challenging” economic times, and will need to find up to $30-million dollars over the coming year to break even.

Kaarina Phyland’s 13-months as council’s acting-chief executive included a restructure that made at least 19 staff redundant and compiling a budget that slashed services and froze infrastructure projects in a bid to balance the books.

Ms Phyland says the city was “heading into insolvency” when she assumed the top job, and the cost-cutting measures helped to turnaround a predicted operating budget deficit of $8m.

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“With a focus on the future, and not just the now, disciplined leaders call upon courage to consistently make ethical choices for the greatest long-term good, doing the right thing even when it is unpopular,” Ms Phyland said.

“This is often called visionary leadership.”

Ms Phyland sustained heavy criticism for councils initial 2022-23 budget, that slashed funding to libraries, pools, lifesavers, charities, and either cancelled or wound back numerous city services and planned infrastructure projects.

Public backlash prompted council to wind back some of the cuts before endorsing the budget in June, but Ms Phyland is standing by the controversial measures.

Incoming City of Greater Geelong CEO Ali Wastie has “a financial sustainability mountain to climb” according to her predecessor (supplied).
“The right thing can mean struggling against powerful interests and going against the status quo,” she said.

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“In times of ‘alternate facts’, influencers and spin-doctoring, disciplined and ethical leaders don’t take the easy road when the going gets tough and when the value of integrity is at stake.”

Geelong’s first permanent CEO in over 12-months started on Monday (August 28), the day after Ms Phyland published her appraisal of her employers finances via her LinkedIn page.

“We deliver over 130 services to the community and we have got a very impressive capital works program,” Ali Wastie said on her first day.

“One of my opportunities is to make sure we are able to continue to deliver those services and capital works program and work productively with the team and I’m sure we can achieve that together.”

Ms Phyland described those 130 services as “loss-making”, said her successor is presiding over a council that has “a financial sustainability mountain to climb ahead.”

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The ex-CEO predicted that 2023-24 ” will be even more challenging”, than the year she presided over and the city required “a $20-30mil restructuring of the P&L (profit and loss) to break even.”

“Here’s one thing I know for sure: Every leader will experience times when their integrity will be tested. It’s important to expect this challenge and know that doing what’s right may not pay off immediately,” she said.

A city spokesperson has confirmed Ms Phyland returns to her former role with the city as Executive Director Strategy, Governance and Corporate.

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