Our neighbours in the Bega Valley are learning that there is as much that happen behind closed doors in that Shire as there is in Eurobodalla. The Bega Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA), in their latest Media Release has "noted the comments of the Mayor, Cr Kristy McBain, regarding reports currently circulating in the community claiming that two Councillors have been found to have breached the Bega valley Shire Council’s (BVSC) Code of Conduct."
Their media release continues: "The alleged breaches are said to relate to the non-disclosure of conflicts of interest in respect of matters before Council.
"Cr McBain indicated that a report may be coming to Council on the matters in the near future.
"The BVSRRA has previously voiced strong criticisms of the management of Code of Conduct matters by Council & is therefore naturally concerned as to how the current, relatively new Council will respond to this situation.
"The BVSRRA believes that it is important for the community to be aware that breaches of Council’s Code of Conduct by Councillors must be formally reported to Council & the reports detailing the investigations into the breaches must also be tabled for consideration.
"The BVSRRA also thinks that it is important for the community to be aware that it is potentially open to the elected Council to deal with Code of Conduct Complaints in “closed session”, thereby avoiding public disclosure of details of the alleged breaches & more importantly, concealing the identity of the Councillors who have allegedly committed those breaches.
"Unfortunately, with one spectacular recent exception, BVSC has on occasion seen fit to review such matters “in camera”, thereby denying the community the opportunity of being made aware of Councillor’s unacceptable behaviour while, at the same time, potentially tainting the reputation of the entire Council.
"The BVSRRA also believes that it is important to recognise that Council is not obliged to deal with Code of Conduct Complaints in “closed session” & to remind Councillors of their individual & collective responsibilities to foster trust & confidence within the community toward the Council & its elected representatives. This would also give credibility to the claim of the Council to be open & transparent with the community in its decision making processes.
"The BVSRRA also believes that it is important for all public officials to be conscious of the fact that where they are guilty of breaching their responsibilities under the Code of Conduct, that there are very real consequences, including exposure of their behaviour to the community.
"The BVSRRA believes that it is imperative that Councillors understand that any failure to insist on full disclosure in these matters will certainly give rise to a loss of confidence in them on the part of the community. There are many parallels between Eurobodalla and Bega Councils. Eurobodalla Council have received a stream of complaints in recent years regarding their needless propensity to "go behind closed doors" in the first instance. Eurobodalla residents and ratepayers are fast becoming more critical of Council going "in camera" and are learning that their council possibly does it more often they should. The mandate of open transparency that many of our new councillors stood for during the last elections seems to be not as open as the electorate and voters might have expected. The perfect example one might find of openness between a Council and its ratepayers in regards to Codes Of Conduct can be found in the very public Lithgow Council report that concerns an alleged breach of the Lithgow City Council’s Code of Conduct (“the Code”) by Councillor Martin Ticehurst (“the Councillor”) as a consequence of him not complying with a Resolution of Lithgow City Council (“the Council”) No. 11- 200 dated 30 May, 2011. The Resolution required that he apologise to the General Manager of Eurobodalla Shire Council (“Eurobodalla”) for his conduct following findings of prima facie breaches of the Code arising from a Report into his behaviour concerning correspondence with Eurobodalla in December, 2010. Eurobodalla ratepayers might be surprised to learn that there has been a litany of Code of Conduct complaints against Eurobodalla staff and Eurobodalla councillors over recent years that have never made the public arena. Some councillors have felt threatened by them and some even intimidated enough by them to have possibly voted contrary to their firm beliefs. The primary reason for the secrecy is that the Office of Local Government has a confidentiality requirement surrounding Code of Conduct reviews however it only applies to Council staff and Councillors. Sadly most of the Code of Conducts that are raised in Council are raised internally by Councillor against Councillor or Staff against Councillor or viceversa. Of interest is that most are overturned when reviewed. Sadly there isn't a report of what goes on. It is widely considered that the threat of a Code of Conduct is used to ensure councillors stay in step with Council staff expectations to keep the integrity and the good name of the Council in check. It is also widely considered by all of those who have been a party to these possible breaches observe that the outcomes of Codes of Conduct against Councillors and Council staff are "light on" and that nothing results other than a slap or reprimand. The Beagle holds evidence of several examples of this leniency. An recent example of this is the Code of Conduct found against Council staff that may not have been made known to Councillors had they not been informed by an outside source. This Code of Conduct resulted in a change of an process by Council staff, to the communities benefit. Eurobodalla Council should be reporting on all Codes of Conducts raised and the resultant review conclusions and recommendations. If Council staff need to be found accountable and a Code of Conduct is found against them then this should be known, if not in detail then at least in measure. Readers of the Beagle might like to ask themselves "How many Codes of Conduct complaints have been raised in the last five years, who raised them and were they successful".