When City of Parramatta councillors met recently to select a chief executive, they had before them a resume that might have seemed fitting for the unprecedented investment flowing into the area.
Mark Stapleton, who had been the council’s director of property for the past year, had his hand up for the top job and was touting his experience with “$35bn of tenders & projects.”
In his application, Mr Stapleton recalled standing on “the empty slab of concrete that was Barangaroo 10 years ago going through a design & capital raising proposal for $4.5bn with Phil Kearns & David Gonski.”
The experience had been an “incredible” one,” Mr Stapleton wrote, “where government private sector and a strong team can create an exceptional outcome.”
However, neither Mr Kearns nor Mr Gonski can recall the $4.5 billion deal, or meeting Mr Stapleton. And other claims made by or about Mr Stapleton, who last month was appointed to lead the 1176-employee council, are under question.
When the City of Parramatta announced his appointment, it told residents about his “senior executive” positions at construction firms Leighton Contractors and John Holland.
Neither company would comment on former staff, but it is understood Mr Stapleton’s job at John Holland was as a design manager on a specific project. “This is not an executive position,” a source said.
The position of chief executive of the City of Parramatta, which comes with a salary around $500,000, is crucial to an array of multi-billion dollar initiatives.
The state government is proposing new metro and light rail lines through the area. It is moving the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta, investing in the upgrade of the Riverside Theatre, and building a new stadium. Indeed, the entire “three cities” strategy of the Greater Sydney Commission hinges on Parramatta’s success.
And the city has enjoyed significant recent residential and commercial investment. It was in relation to one of these investments that Mr Stapleton first met controversy, when he was suspended from his job late last year by then chief executive Greg Dyer.
The reasons for Mr Stapleton’s suspension have not been disclosed. But it is understood they include misleading councillors about a Walker Corporation development, a bullying allegation against him by a more junior employee, and rude behaviour at meetings.
In a response for this story, lawyers for Mr Stapleton said the allegation for the suspension was independently investigated, and not substantiated.
After Mr Dyer quit the council, Mr Stapleton, who sources said was qualified and capable in his role as property director, was recalled.
Mr Stapleton then emerged as one of two final candidates to replace his old boss. The other was the general manager of Wollongong City Council, David Farmer, who has run councils for more than 20 years.
A meeting to vote on the candidates on June 26 was closed to the public. At that meeting, mayor Andrew Wilson, deputy mayor Michelle Garrard, and independent Lorraine Wearne all requested they be recorded as voting against Mr Stapleton’s appointment.
At the following public meeting, councillors mentioned the vote to appoint Mr Stapleton had been split: seven against, eight in favour.
“I’ve never seen a CEO vote before where we had a split chamber,” Cr Wearne said at the July 9 meeting.
Contacted for this story, Cr Wearne said Mr Stapleton was “unqualified” for the job.
Cr Garrard said: “I don’t have confidence that he will be able to be impartial within the organisation, from a staff perspective and from a councillor perspective.”
Councillors who voted for Mr Stapleton included Liberals Steven Issa, Martin Zaiter, Bill Tyrrell, Benjamin Barrak, Andrew Jefferies and Sameer Pandey, as well as Labor representatives, Pierre Esber and Paul Han.
Cr Issa, who is on the State Executive of the NSW Liberal Party representing the party’s local government assembly, said Mr Stapleton emerged as the best candidate after a thorough process that included interviews and psychometric testing.
Cr Issa credited Mr Stapleton’s familiarity with the area, and experience delivering major projects.
“There’s a level of pragmatism there that I saw that I think would serve the City of Parramatta well.”
However the nature of Mr Stapleton’s project experience is unclear from the job application provided to the councillors, and which has been obtained by the Herald.
Many of the claims in the application, which is riddled with poor grammar and syntax, are unverifiable. The application includes diplomas in “commercial estate” and accounting, from unnamed institutes of technology and community colleges.
To view documents related to the application for the position:
One of the few testable claims was the account of having worked on a billion-dollar deal with Mr Gonski and Mr Kearns.
“After much brow furrowing neither of us have any recollection of this,” Mr Kearns told the Herald.
In emailed questions, the Herald asked Mr Stapleton about his contact with Mr Kearns and Mr Gonski, but did not receive a response on the issue.
Through his lawyers, Mr Stapleton denied being dishonest or fraudulent in his job application, or being unqualified to hold the position of chief executive.
Since Mr Stapleton’s appointment, Parramatta’s director of strategic outcomes, Sue Weatherley, and head of HR, Leigh Yardy, have left the council.
In his own words, Mr Stapleton makes a virtue of shaking things up.
Under the heading “People & High Performance & Mindfulness & Industrial Psychologists,” Mr Stapleton writes in his successful application: “I feel its worth investing in the people in the various teams and go on the journey with them not being afraid to challenge the status quo.”
Jacob Saulwick is City Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald.