Pool corp cash-splash

Noble Park Aquatic Centre will be managed by a new council subsidiary South East Leisure. 210326_05 Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

City of Greater Dandenong will pour up to $2.1 million into its wholly-owned subsidiary company to oversee its pools and leisure centres in what critics are calling a “boys club“.

South East Leisure Pty Ltd will manage Dandenong Basketball Stadium, Dandenong Oasis, Noble Park Aquatic Centre and Springers Leisure Centre.

Its paid six-member board is headed by chair Steven Wright – a former Richmond Football Club CEO.

The other SEL directors include three with pre-existing ties to Greater Dandenong Council.

One is Mick Jaensch, who is set to retire as the council’s long-standing corporate services director at the end of June.

Domenic Isola (a former Hume City Council CEO who used to sit on the board of the council part-owned Community Chef), Tim Cockayne (who was interim chair of the council-owned Dandenong Market board), Dr Malak Sukkar and Laura Buckley are the other SEL board members.

Mr Wright is paid $35,000 a year, the other directors $25,000 a year.

The appointments were delegated by councillors to the council chief executive John Bennie – who is also a former Community Chef director.

The selection process involved Mr Bennie, community services director Martin Fidler, its sport and recreation manager and an unnamed “external industry expert” who checked references and assisted in interviews.

Mr Fidler told Star Journal that “no conflicts of interest” arose during the selection process.

More than 50 applications were received for the advertised positions, Mr Fidler said.

“A range of skill sets were sought for the board members including marketing and communications, strategy and business planning, risk and safety, legal and governance, finance, and leisure and recreation.

“We are pleased to introduce a board of such high calibre members in the requisite skill sets sought.”

Former councillor Maria Sampey – who was a non-voting director representing the council on the Dandenong Market board – questioned why no background was publicly provided on the SEL board members.

She said few of the board members seemed to have expertise in running aquatic centres.

“It’s jobs for the boys and a huge leg-up for Mick Jaensch,” she said.

SEL’s first year of establishment costs are estimated between $1.6 million-$2.1 million.

In a report to the council, the model was expected to produce the “most economic financial result for council”.

It will have a “strong focus on improving community well-being and participation in leisure activities”.

Mr Fidler said the South East Leisure option was chosen because the council didn’t have the expertise to manage the centres “in house”.

At the same time, the council had control to protect its “significant investment” in its assets, such as $6 million upgrade of NPAC and the $60 million Oasis redevelopment.

“The company model retains strong control and alignment with our unique community needs.”

In setting up SEL, the council opted not to renew the contracts of leisure centre managers Dandenong Basketball Association and YMCA.

Mr Fidler said there were “no specific failings” by the DBA and the YMCA.