Two Warrnambool City councillors have raised concerns over a push to publicly release some results of a confidential staff survey while three others have backed councillor Mike Neoh's call.
Cr Neoh on the weekend said results of a confidential council staff survey posed "grave concerns" and flagged his intention to move a motion at Monday's meeting for some of the contents to become public.
Cr Kylie Gaston, David Owen and Sue Cassidy backed the move.
However, Mayor Tony Herbert and Cr Peter Sycopoulis said they were concerned releasing the staff survey would breach confidentiality and the confidence of staff.
Cr Herbert said the staff survey was done in the knowledge it was confidential. "How do you now say we've changed our minds?"
"It's playing with people's work lives," he said.
Cr Herbert said no other organisation debated its staff surveys in the public realm and was concerned it would deter staff from being honest in future surveys.
He said in the past he had asked for results of staff surveys only to be told it was an operational issue that councillors didn't have control over.
"But now, we have those same councillors who want to know everything," he said.
"I would be really sad if the staff survey is being used as a political football.
"It is so unfair on the staff that are really trying to do a great job for the city."
Cr Herbert said staff surveys were a way of understanding how an organisation was running and how it could be improved, and the council had already formed focus groups in order to address issues raised.
"They're working on a plan to improve the culture. A culture is something that is either built up or let go over a number of years," he said.
"It isn't a quick fix."
Cr Herbert said staff surveys were done regularly and it was the first time the council had done this amount of work to address issues raised in a staff survey.
"Many of the issues and opportunities are long term and historical ones and our staff need to be given the respect and time to be part of the plan to improve the culture," he said.
"It will take time, but the desire to progress and improve is clear.
"Council has so many great staff that love their job.
"During this time where job security is much higher on everyone's agenda we need to remain mindful of supporting each other."
Cr Sycopoulis said he had always advocated for openness and transparency within council, however, unlike the Community Satisfaction Survey, council staff would likely have had assurances their personal thoughts and opinions relating to their work would remain private.
"I am concerned that by releasing this information, we breach their confidence and their confidentiality," he said.
"The demonstrable fact remains that Cr Neoh has usually insisted in the past that matters relating to staff are operational and not the domain of councillors.
"I can only speculate as to why Cr Neoh now believes the complete opposite."
The council's chief executive officer Peter Schneider has said the staff survey would not be made public but shared with staff.
Cr Gaston said: "We need to show we are listening to the collective responses from the staff surveys, so I'm personally glad that Mike has called this out."
"Our staff should feel worthwhile, valued and believe senior management is leading them in the right direction.
"The executive summary is what councillors insisted on seeing.
"There are some very worrying trends and indicators. We need to be open and upfront about them and I hope by doing so we can begin to rebuild our culture in line with our values and vision for our city."
Cr Sue Cassidy said the call showed the staff councillors did worry about them and were concerned about the future.
She said that while she would like to see the whole survey released, there were privacy issues around staff comments that would prevent that.
"The public have a right to know what's going on," she said.
Cr David Owen said he was very supportive of the notice of motion.
"I think we need to unpack some of the things in there so that the public have a bit of an idea what's going on," he said. "We have to be clear and transparent."
He supported getting some of it out in the open so things could be addressed and some healing could take place.
Our COVID-19 news articles relating to public health and safety are free for anyone to access. However, we depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.