The Council meeting today started off with a several speakers to the Public Access time slot of 9:30 am to 10am before the Council proper meeting begins. The five minute each Public Access presentations are not live streamed as are the Public Forum presentations and, unlike the Public Forum presentations being solely in regards to agenda items on the day the Public Access slot can be on any subject of Council relevance. The first speaker during Public Access was Kathryn Maxwell of SHASA, South Coast Health and Sustainability Alliance introducing the organisation to the Councillors. This worked well as it lead then into Kathryn's presentation to Councillors in Public Forum on the Eurobodalla Council's Emissions Reduction Plan that was an agenda item advising the Councillors that the community needs Council to be strong leader. Peter Cormick then spoke on confidentiality and transparency. While it was quite pointed at two Agenda items that were described as "Personnel Matters" leaks from the Council in the previous week had revealed that the "matters were in regards to the General Manager's review and offer of continued appointment. Jim Bright followed this up with a similar presentation on the matter of confidentiality in regards to the legislation and specifically the confidentiality around the appointment or discussion of General Manager appointments. It was noted by the gallery that the Councillors had NO questions to ask either of the speakers. The Public Forum today was focused around the Eurobodalla Council's Emissions Reduction Plan, naming of the Variety Playground in Batemans Bay, Mackay Park precinct and the Off Leash area for Batemans Bay. Those issues will be dealt with under separate Beagle articles Of interest this afternoon were the three members of the public who stepped down from the Public Gallery to bring Council to task on why it should not have listed the agenda items as Personnel Matters without any description in contravention of the OLG requirements. Having heard the three speakers who were given two minutes each the General Manager advised that the protocol used was the correct one and as the matter of her Review and re appointment was a personnel matter it simply required that as a heading and did not require any description. With that assurity the Councillors then moved into Confidential.
Above: Peter Cormick speaking on Council Matters and the Eurobodalla Council meeting of June 13th, 2017
Public Access – Peter Cormick
13 June 2017
CONFIDENTIALITY AND TRANSPARENCY AS IT RELATES TO COUNCIL
I am speaking in this Public Access session because on seeking to be registered to speak in Public Forum on confidential agenda items CON17/002 and CON17/003, I was told by a staff member that council’s Code of Meeting Practice prevents me from doing so; and because time does not permit and also to avoid an unproductive exchange of differences of view with the chair, I won’t attempt to argue otherwise.
Rather, I will simply say that the section of the LGA that the code relies upon in this, being 10A, does not permit the blanket declaration of confidentiality to be placed on a meeting. It very clearly states that “A council, or a committee of the council of which all the members are councillors, may close to the public [just] so much of its meeting as comprises ...” the matters then specified.
In other words, only those parts of a meeting that satisfy part 2 of section 10A may be closed to the public. Clearly, to close the meeting otherwise, would be in breach of the LGA.
Transparency is no more than a word bandied about in reports. Sure, the easy, non-contentious stuff is out there but not so those matters that cause discomfort for council. I refer you to section 10B(4) of the LGA on this issue –concerning the prohibition on withholding of information for the purpose of avoiding embarrassment, or even loss of confidence in the council. But who in this room is actually keeping an eye on adherence to such requirements?
I recall very well the farcical tendering process for the licensing of council controlled land which had in the report that introduced the matter into the chamber, the word “transparent” plastered throughout. Our intelligence is insulted by this constant misuse of the word.
The fundamental requirements of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009, of proactive release of information and of the paramount importance of public interest considerations – such as the disclosure of ... information [that] could reasonably be expected to promote open discussion of public affairs, enhance Government accountability or contribute to positive and informed debate on issues of public importance - are simply not recognised by this council.
In fact, the obsession is such that the council spends ratepayers’ money on legal fees – all approved by you, no doubt unwittingly – to fight the recommendations for the release of information by the Information Commissioner – the person who administers the GIPA Act.
There is in fact relatively very little information that council handles that can be genuinely described as confidential.
And there would be no process that I can think of that could be classified as confidential – according to the standards set by sections 10A and 10B of the LGA.
Take for example, the process of appointing or reviewing the performance of a general manger – or the process by which a general manager’s contract might be renewed. The subject matter itself is one thing but the process by which it is handled is quite another. It is simply wrong to conflate the two and declare both the material and the process to be confidential. And even considering just the material and not the process, key performance indicators for example can in no way be regarded as confidential. But they are, by this council.
And on the subject of process, I challenge anyone of you to identify any aspect of the processes by which a general manager’s performance might be reviewed or a contract renewal be considered, that could possibly be classified as confidential. The processes should in fact be spelt out on the website. As to what is said, during those processes, well that is another matter.
We already know for example that the LGA requires that in consultation with the councillors the mayor must lead a performance appraisal of the general manager. That part of the process is clearly spelt out at section 226. And, incidentally, if a mayor were to not lead such an appraisal then its validity might well be open to question. So too any considerations by councillors in which, according to the Code of Conduct, you must take all relevant facts known to you, or that you should be reasonably aware of into account when making decisions; otherwise you will clearly be in breach of that code. And on this issue you will normally be reliant on the staff to ensure that you are properly informed. In fact, by section 335 of the LGA the general manger is required to provide councillors with “timely information”, in order to make informed and considered decisions in the discharge of your functions.