Tag Archives: Code of conduct

Must read! Investigation into the transparency of local government decision making

Council Transparency

The Investigation into the transparency of local government decision making has been completed and the report publicly released.

I took the time to read through this report and found it very informative and interesting that it revealed some issues relating to Councils. Community members had reasonable concerns about transparency in their Councils and in fact there were many complaints  made to the Ombudsman.

“This investigation arose from a single complaint about a decision made in a closed council meeting – a practice that we found to be widespread across Victoria. Some complaints resonate as a theme: local councils continue to account for some 25 per cent of jurisdictional complaints to my office – more than 3,400 last year. People complaining to my office about council decisions periodically refer to the decision being made “in secret” or “behind closed doors” as evidence to support their concerns. I tabled the report into the original complaint in June 2016, but this has been a far wider investigation, looking at the transparency of decision-making within local government in Victoria.” Source: Deborah Glass Ombudsman.

As part of the investigation 79 Victorian councils were surveyed and 12  were selected to be examined in detail.  

The areas of focus were:

the closure of council meetings and special committee meetings to     the public

• the handling of confidential matters

• the nature and quality of audio and visual records of meetings and       the public’s ability to access records

• the scope and exercise of delegated council functions/powers and       administrative actions; and the reporting of these to council and           the public

• the nature and content of information discussed in ‘assemblies of         councillors’

Due to the findings, there were specific recommendations made in the report to be introduced or implemented. Here is a summary of   some of the recommendations or suggestions:

• relating to the Local Government Act, a requirement for more              detailed reasons in relation to the closure of meetings to be                    specified in the minutes and that embarrassment to, or potential          adverse criticism of, council are not reasons to close a meeting to        the public

implement a mandatory ‘Code of Councillor Conduct’ training               program       

• conflict of interest requirements to extend to advisory committee      members and to have an updated list of committees on a Council’s      website                               

• ensure that agendas are made available to public five days before a     council meeting

 public questions and answers to be recorded in minutes,  through       audio or audio-visual recording and publication, as well as posting       recorded open meetings to council websites

Did you know about section 15 Your right to freedom of expression’ under the Human Rights Charter?  

“People are free to say what they think and want to say. They have the right to find, receive and share information and ideas. In general, this right might be limited to respect the rights and reputation of other people, or for the protection of public safety and order.” Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

How does this right play a role in Council? As stated in the report: 

“Councils also need to take care regarding restrictions on public question time. Unreasonable restrictions have the potential to be incompatible with not only the right to participate in public life, but the right to freedom of expression in section 15 of the Charter. For example, where councils require questions in writing prior to meetings, they should ensure there is appropriate assistance available to those who may have difficulty placing their question in writing. A number of councils mentioned they offered such assistance. Councils should also ensure that any restriction on the content of questions or submissions by members of the public at meetings which could be considered to limit their right to freedom of expression is appropriately balanced with any lawful restrictions reasonably necessary to respect the rights and reputation of other persons or national security, public order, public health or public morality.”

You will also find a summary of transparency in the report:
What does a transparent council look like?
What does a transparent council look like?
Page 150 -151 of the Investigation into the transparency of local government decision making report. Click to view!

Link to full report: Victorian Ombudsman: Investigation into the transparency of local government decision making

Related links: 

Local government transparency a postcode lottery: Victorian Ombudsman

Victorian public being shut out of local council meetings, ombudsman says

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass says councils must be more transparent over their decisions

Empowering Monash & YOU post – Transparency in Council 

Empowering Monash & YOU post – Feedback to Council: Streaming/recording of meetings

Comments are welcome!

HarikNG – Administrator and Contributer

Empowering Monash & YOU

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Important Update! Some Councillors not signing code of conduct spared due to stuff ups!

Some Councils stuffed up!

Recently there was an issue with a Monash Councillor (Theo Zographos – Councillor in firing line for not signing code of conduct) for not signing the code of conduct in front of the CEO, but now the Government stated there might have been some stuff ups! 

“Councillors who failed to properly sign a new code of conduct have been spared disqualification and will be able to comply by February. Acting Local Government Minister Richard Wynne said there had been a failure of administrative duties by councils and incompetence in some cases.” Source: The Age

The local Government Minister Richard Wynne mentioned that he received letters from council’s admitting they had made a mistake.

Apparently due to the errors, 107 councillors from 13 different councils faced suspension!

Articles to more info in relation to this debacle!

The Age – ‘They stuffed up’: sacked councils to get last-minute

The Age Victoria – More than 100 Victorian councillors face disqualification

ABC News – Local councils ‘failed to comply’ with code of conduct law changes, Victorian Government says

What do members of the community think of this debacle?

Transparency In Council

There has been some discussion about the merit, risks and benefits of recording and publishing proceedings of our council meetings.  Council has conducted some closed, internal reviews and determined that they don’t consider it to be in the best interests of the community that we have a video record of the conduct of council meetings.  Recent behaviour and procedural chaos might actually suggest that it’s not in the interests of some councillors that too many people see what they get up to on the last Tuesday  of each month.

However, even when it’s potentially very embarrassing to some, there are councils who are not afraid to put their meetings online both live and for subsequent review.

Consider this very controversial meeting at Darebin (http://councils.apstream.net/council/public/Darebin/player.asp?Tab=2&OrgEntity=91&Meeting=1680) in which there was a serious disagreement between councillors as to whether or not they were operating in accordance with the requirements of the Local Government Act – you can’t get a lot more serious than that.

Despite the clearly strongly held divergent views and the sensitivity of the matter in question (Councillors appeared to be challenging the legality of the recent appointment of the CEO!), the meeting was conducted in a generally civil manner (at least up to the point at which four councillors walked out) and the council has not felt it necessary to censor or remove the recording.  The citizens of Darebin have the opportunity to see their council meetings live from home (especially important for those with mobility or other access issues) and to review the meeting in order to develop an informed opinion on matters of significance to their community.

Not so in Monash.  It’s time to get down to Council on the last Tuesday of each month to see and judge for yourself.  Do we need our councillors’ behaviour and processes online for all to see?  Do we have a right to know what’s going on even when we cannot get there in person?

Related Stories:

Mayors’ Tongues Astray

Since the November 2013 Mayoral Elections in Monash it seems that a requirement for election has been a lack of control over the Mayoral tongue.

By April 2014, Mayor Lake was forced to apologise for his tongue straying and promising to exercise greater control in the future.  The meeting minutes record:

Des Olin question:
As a result of shared learning from the incident in engaging inappropriate correspondence with Jack Davies, will the Mayor of the City of Monash Council announced publically that he will exercise and also ensure other Councillors will exercise the highest care and diligence in complying with:
1. The Monash code of conduct, and
2. Its application in accordance to the Local Government Act, including latest amendments) when engaging and communicating with members of the public?”
Answer:
Thank you for your question.
Yes, I unreservedly give that guarantee.
As you know, my response to the letter in question was intended to be a tongue-in-cheek and good-humoured response.
I accept that it has not been taken that way by the recipient and I have written to him separately to assure him that given his objection to this response, a similar tongue-in-cheek approach will not be used again in future correspondence to him.
I regret any concern caused to him or anyone else as that was certainly not intended.

Mayor Klisaris’ tongue was quicker to escape the Mayoral chain of office in 2015, however.  Waverley Leader, 27 January 2015, reported the following:

MONASH Mayor Paul Klisaris has been lambasted by his Liberal colleagues for a “tongue-in-cheek” comment appealing for new Australian citizens to vote Labor.

Addressing 42 new citizens at the council’s Australia Day citizenship ceremony today, Cr Klisaris said Australians could vote however they chose, “but we’d prefer it if you voted Labor”.

Cr Klisaris later defended his comments, saying there was freedom of speech in Australia and he didn’t think his comment would have “swayed anyone” to vote Labor.

“I think people are being a little bit precious, it was all tongue in cheek,” Cr Klisaris said.

“I turned to our guests and apologised.”

The rest of the City of Monash is still awaiting an apology for this misconduct.  Personal freedom of speech is one thing; comments made under the guise of an official position do not enjoy that same privilege.

Perhaps Monash Mayoral candidates should undergo some post-electoral tongue training – if you must put your tongue in your cheek, have the good sense to bite it before you say something silly and embarrassing to the city you purport to represent!

SNIPPET FROM MONASH COUNCIL MEETING! IS THIS AN APOLOGY FROM MAYOR GEOFF LAKE?

Did you miss the recent Monash Council   meeting? Response to article? Is this an apology?

snippet from council meeting

There was an article in the Herald sun on 22 April 2014 stating that Monash mayor Geoff Lake provided a “tongue-in-cheek” response to Ratepayers Victoria president Jack Davis after Mr after Mr Davis questioned the legitimacy of local government.  Click on link to article:

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/letters-to-ratepayers-chief-labelled-disgraceful/story-fni0fit3-1226892547786?sv=48dd6678059fdf66fecd567019cd153#.U1dPb0jnpXM.facebook

I read the article and find it quite astounding that Mayor Lake responded to a concerned citizen in this way. This is not the first time that Mayor Lake has behaved inappropriately.

http://www.news.com.au/national/kevin-rudds-star-victorian-recruit-geoff-lakes-abuse-of-wheelchair-bound-woman-revealed/story-fnho52ip-1226694514695

Has the Monash Mayor breached the code of conduct principles? Here are the code of conduct principles. What do you think? 

http://www.monash.vic.gov.au/council/documents/CouncillorsCodeofConductSep2013.pdf

councillors code of conductWould love to hear any comments or feedback from the community. Do you think Monash Council should have disciplined Mayor Geoff Lake for his actions?

 

Would this really rebuild the community’s trust?

On Wednesday 2 of April 2014 the Victorian Government introduced a new legislation – Local Government Amendment (Governance and Conduct) Bill 2. The bill is reviewed and considered before it can become Law.

It is claimed these reforms will ensure good conduct by Councillors as well as ensuring councils fulfil their responsibilities appropriately.         “Victorians should know that they can trust their elected council representatives and feel confident there are effective measures in place to deal appropriately and quickly with any instance of poor conduct and performance,” Mr Bull said – Minister for Local Government.

How would this affect your Local Council? Here are some changes that will impact Councils:

  • The Mayor will need to provide guidance and ensure good working relations among Councillors and is the main spokesperson for the council
  • Councils will have to introduce a CEO Employment matters committee which will provide advice on all contractual matters relating to the CEO’s employment
  • Councillor conduct panels members will be chosen from a list of people appointed by the Minister for Local Government
  • The Act will introduce new criminal offences for unlawful direction of council staff and release of confidential information
  • The  chairperson of the  audit committee can only be a person who is not a Councillor or a member of staff
  • Councillors will not be able to nominate council funds to a person, organisation or to a fund
  • The oath of office will include the promise that Councillors will need to follow the conduct principles  and the chairperson will need to recite the oath at the start of each council meeting
  • After an election, an elected Councillor will be required to complete a councillor induction program
EM&U encourages citizens to make their own observations of the conduct of Monash Council. Monthly meetings may be viewed from the public gallery (upstairs in the Council building 293 Springvale Road, Glen Waverley 3150). The next meeting is on Tuesday 29 April 7.30 pm. EM&U members regularly attend these meetings.
Monash Ratepayers Inc (MRI) has published feedback on meetings. See: https://monashandyou.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/councillors-failed-report-card/

For more info on this new legislation please clink on links provided:

http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/images/140402_Bull_-_Conduct_reforms_to_rebuild_community_trust.pdf

http://www.dpcd.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/223838/Governance-and-Conduct-Bill-brochure.pdf