CRY THE BELOVED KNYSNA

So said Acting Municipal Manager Michele Gratz after tending her resignation out of sheer frustration.

Knysna Municipality was all but turned on its head in last Thursday’s ‘online’ council meeting, after the Acting Municipal Manager, the Chief Financial Officer, and the Ward 10 Councillor all tendered their resignations.

Acting Municipal Manager Dr Michele Gratz, who many believed would be the saving grace of the cash-strapped, embattled local authority, was the first to drop the bombshell. She addressed council members and officials with a prepared speech which, though presented in her matter of fact manner, had an obvious underlying charge of frustration and emotion.

Dr Gratz said that when she had been asked in February to come out of retirement and take on the role of Acting Municipal Manager of Knysna Municipality, she had neither wanted nor needed the job, but believed it her civic duty to help a municipality that was in trouble.
“With 20 years’ of experience in local government, I believed I could make a difference,” she said.
“I have given this job my all. I have worked seven days a week since the 18th of February. I have frequently worked through the night to resolve the many challenges that Knysna faces.”

She described how the COVID-19 lockdown had affected the momentum she had built up, but had not stopped her making a difference. Her actions, she said, should effect savings of R20 million for the local authority.
“Before my arrival, this municipality spent money recklessly,” she stated, “Expenditure was out of control.” Within her first month, however, she had been able to reduce the ‘stand by’ and overtime expenditure by 63% saving the municipality R1,2 million.
“If the lockdown had not hit, the finances of this Municipality COULD have been turned around,” she told the meeting.

Dr Gratz went on to outline the other challenges she had been faced with, including the process of investigating the allegations against the previous Municipal Manager, Dr Vitala, and numerous service delivery issues.

When she had first arrived the Collaborator System for correspondence and record keeping had been a shambles with more than 9000 outstanding items, many for more than eight months. She has since compelled staff to deal with these matters, and to date the backlog has been reduced to 2000.
“A culture of service delivery is growing,” she said.

Amongst numerous other problems she had dealt with, discipline had been another big issue in the Municipality. Now, she believes, staff understand that there are consequences for misconduct and low productivity.
But it was not any of these challenges that caused Dr Gratz to resign. She laid the blame for this at the feet of some internal officials working with “an external organisation with seemingly personal agendas and questionable mandate” which she said had constantly tried to dictate what happened at the municipality. She believed her refusal to toe the line and follow their instructions had culminated in the ‘Gratz must go!’ telephone call that the Deputy Mayor later informed her he had received the day prior to her resignation.

“I am not leaving to make a few privileged individuals happy,” she said, “ In fact, I would like to stay to expose their underhand tactics. However this Municipality is broken and paralysed. I cannot hold proper meetings because confidentiality is not respected. I may as well invite the external organisation to the meeting. The prevailing culture does not want to change, it does not want to help Knysna, it wants to help itself.”

“No one person can turn this Municipality around. It will need a team, and certain officials will have to be removed. The only future I see for this municipality is to go under the administration of the province.”
“If I thought I would be heard, and could make a difference, I would stay.”
“The silent majority will continue to suffer at the hands of a few.”

“Cry the beloved Knysna.”

Following her speech, Councillor Peter Myers and Chief Financial Officer Mbulelo Memani also verbally tendered their resignations.

Whilst Dr Gratz had not named the ‘Outside Organisation’ in her resignation speech, the outgoing Councillor Myers made no bones about revealing who it was in a scathing press release he issued the following morning.

“A number of individuals acting for the Knysna Ratepayers Association (KRA) have recently embarked on a campaign of bombarding the Acting Municipal Manager, Dr Michele Gratz with a never ending stream of emails, complaints and demands which seem to stem at least in part from the fact that one of their members was recently not reselected to serve on the municipal planning tribunal. The KRA has also targeted the CFO Mr Memani with its particular brand of unfair accusations and utter garbage leading to him announcing his resignation – there is only so much an individual can take. No doubt this discreditable group are planning their next hatchet job on anyone who dares to cross them and their friends in senior positions in the municipality. It would be interesting to know how much real support the KRA actually has amongst the public – not much I would venture.”

In the release he described Dr Gratz, as ‘the best municipal manager Knysna has probably ever had’, but was less complimentary of the KRA.

“In the past I have worked constructively with the KRA on numerous issues, but their recent focus on small minded and nasty attacks on those who disagree with them, reveal an organisation that has lost its way.”

“Knysna deserves to have a person of Dr Gratz’s skills, knowledge and energy to lead it in these difficult times and those who left her no alternative but to leave bear a heavy responsibility, and I hope will in time be held to account.”

The Knysna Ratepayers Association said that their committee is shocked by the accusations levelled at the KRA by the Acting Municipal Manager, and sent The EDGE a detailed response. It is, unfortunately too lengthy to publish in print, but will be available in full on The EDGE Facebook page.

It states in conclusion “Our committee has no problem with Dr. Gratz as Acting MM. In the absence of justifiable proof that these accusations against us are true, Dr Gratz owes the KRA and the ratepayers an apology, likewise if the allegations are proved to be true we will issue the same to Dr. Gratz.”

Sedgefield Ratepayers, meanwhile, have offered their support to Dr Gratz in a letter sent to Provincial Premier Alan Winde.

“Since taking office as acting Municipal Manager, Dr Gratz has performed remarkably, and in her relatively short time at the helm has managed to right many wrongs, as well as introducing the required measures to initiate the correction of the remaining shortcomings. Her valiant efforts were not appreciated by those responsible for the ruling chaos, and their vociferous opposition has resulted in her decision to resign from her post . This should be prevented if at all possible, as without her the Municipality will fail dismally.