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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Report calls for new independent Councillor Conduct Commission

The total cost of dealing with code of conduct complaints relating to Eurobodalla Councillors and the General Manager for the 2021-2022 period was $18,516.00. This cost doesn’t include the two complaints not finalised as of 31 August 2022 however, it does include the cost of a completed investigation from the previous year. The cost of this completed investigation was $11,750.00. What we know is that there were three complaints. What we don't know is what the complaints were or who they were made against. Of the three apparently one was found to be a Breach - what the breach was we don't know, nor do we know who breached and we do not know of the consequences. That is because any Code of Conduct complaint made by anyone against anyone, even if proven, remains confidential. All we know is that ratepayers spent $18,516 over the past year dealing with Code of Conduct complaints that commissioned contracted reviewers to write a confidential report that no-one is allowed to read other than the person who made the complaint. And they are bound by the Council's Code of Conduct Complaints policy to say nothing at all. To date the Conduct complaint process has been seen as little more than a means to threaten councillors and keep them in line. Any Code of Conduct complaint from the outside is readily dismissed as vexatious in the outset and anyone making complaint is not at liberty to see what Council provided to a reviewer that might exonerate them. The opportunity of collusion to exonerate has been obvious in the past and the preference by Council of specific reviewers has been more than questionable. Overall the failure of the process, the failure of the Office of Local Government and the gullibility and laziness of our own councillors in taking a firm hold of the process as it stood has led to further distrust. But changes are afoot. Judy Skatssoon of Government News reports: A review of poor behaviour in local government has recommended setting up a system of independent councillor conduct review panels overseen by a new statutory office.


The proposed Office of the Councillor Conduct Commissioner would be separate from OLG and would remove general managers from the complaints management process.

The recommendations also include harsher penalties for badly behaved councillors, and more powers for mayors and chairs to sanction and kick out disorderly councillors from meetings.

The review was conducted by former Logan City General manager Gary Kellar, who was also involved in an overhaul Queensland’s misconduct framework in 2017.

A number of submissions to the review had raised concerns about a conflict of interest involving general managers as complaint assessors, a lack of competence by reviewers and the length of time taken to review and investigate complaints both by OLG, Mr Kellar said.

Biggest changes in 30 years

Releasing Mr Kellar’s report on Tuesday, local government minister Wendy Tuckerman said Mr Kellar’s 49 recommendations represented the biggest changes to local government integrity measures in more than 30 years.

Ms Tuckerman said it was clear from recent ICAC inquiries that changes were needed to restore trust in local government.

“The people of NSW expect their elected representatives to uphold the highest standards of behaviour and anyone who breaches that trust should face the consequences,” she said.

Local government peak backs more accountability

LGNSW has welcomed recommendations to improve councillor accountability but said it expected state and federal government to be held to the same standards.

“LGNSW is of the view that anyone found guilty of misconduct in politics – whether it be federal, state or local government – should face the consequences,” President Darriea Turley said.

“It is for this reason that we expect state and federal politicians to be bound by a similar framework to the one recommended by this review.”

The most significant recommendation in the review, the establishment of an overarching Councillor Conduct Commission tasked with overseeing a system of panels, would bring the new accountability framework under ‘a single independent and focused authority,’ the report says.

New model of regulation

It would represent a new model of regulation based not only on rooting out and punishing misconduct, but also on “educating and encouraging councillors to perform at their best”.

The proposed commission would provide a “streamlined, impartial and professional complaints management process to minimise the disruption and cost currently being imposed on the sector”.

“The primary indicator will be … reducing the number of complaints about councillor conduct and the general improvement of community trust and confidence in the civic responsibility of elected councillors,” the report says.

Fines and sanctions

The recommendations also include mandatory councillor training and tougher sanctions including fines.

Cr Turley said the recommendations would go a long way to fixing shortcomings in dealing with wrongdoing in local government.

“Unfortunately, for too long we have had to contend with a resolution system that is undermined by lengthy delays and a lack of effective sanctions,” Cr Turley said.

“This failed system not only tarnished the reputation of local government in NSW but in some instances overshadowed the great work councils do for their communities.”

Key recommendations include:

  • A new, independent framework for dealing with councillor misconduct

  • The establishment of an independent Councillor Conduct Commission to oversee independent Councillor Conduct Review Panels

  • Mandatory councillor training, including pre-nomination training of candidates for election

  • Tougher penalties and sections to deal with misconduct, including the ability to impose monetary penalties on individuals

Councils have until February 3 to respond to the proposals. A consultation guide to help inform feedback and is available here


Comments


NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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