Decisions by Proxy: Councillor Forums under review for non compliance of s89 of the ACT

A complaint has been forward to the Victorian Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate requesting that the State Government investigate the management and administration of the City of Melbourne Councillor Forums and its compliance with section 89 of the Victorian Local Government Act 1989 (The Act)

Section 89 of the Local Government Act provides for the public right to attend all council meetings with the exception when matters of confidentiality are discussed. 

The City of Melbourne considers a number of issues that effect Council policy and its administration at the Council Forums which are held in closed session. 

On November 27, 2012 the City of Melbourne held a Councillor Forum in which a number of issues of Council policy and administration were discussed.  This meeting was closed to the public and its agenda and reports were not published.

Decision by Proxy

The City of Melbourne falsely claim that because “they do not make decisions” at the Councillor Forums they do not fall under the provisions of section 89 of the Act. The Council administration acts under delegations on the recommendations and discussions arising at the Councillors’ forum.  This is akin to decisions by proxy.

The City of Melbourne publishes a record of the meeting,  pursuant to the Local Government regulations, weeks after the event. However the agenda of the Councillor Forums are not published prior to the meetings and members of the public are denied access to detailed information, reports or input into the deliberations and discussions of the Councillors.  Members of the pubic wishing to gain access to information and reports presented at the Councillor forums  need to make an application under the provisions an FOI legislation which is a further abuse of process.

Denial of natural justice.  

Many of the issues raised and discussed in closed session at Councillor Forums effect public policy and as they are not open to the public deny members of the public the right to observe, monitor  and/or provide input into the decisions of Council.  Detailed reports. minutes and discussion papers presented to at the Councillor Forums  are not published or made available to the public via the Council Web site.

One member of the public said “they had requested copies of the reports being presented to Council but were denied access“.  The Council Officer concerned said “that this is not the way we do business“. Matters under consideration are no longer discussed in open public forums but are decided behind closed doors.

The newly elected Council has failed to act or question the legality of the Councils actions.

Record of Delegated Authority

There is no public record or registry of decisions made under delegation.

It is difficult or impossible to determine under what authority the administration has in setting public policy or matters contained under Council Local Laws

Avoidance of compliance

The conduct of the City of Melbourne Councillor is a deliberate attempt to avoid the provisions of section 89 of the Act and to deny members of the public the right to attend and observe Council meetings.

Public Confidence

This seriously undermines public confidence in the administration of the Council and could lead to corruption as a result of the lack of transparency and accountability

Then and Now: Doyle backs down from Legal Challenge: Decisions by Proxy

Robert Doyle on the run backs down on legal challenge of integrity Then … and Now

Councillors Richard Forster, Rohan Leppert and Stephen Mayne have already reneged on their commitment to Open and Transparent Government


Richard Foster said “he also wanted to increase the public’s perception of the council’s integrity by ending the policy of closing council meetings

 “Doing nothing is not an option“.- Richard Foster “Our Melbourne” @Richo_Foster That is until he was elected. Policy and commitment for Open and transparency out the window. 

Within less than 2 months of being elected @Richo_Foster continued practice of secret meetings behind closed doors locking out the public .

Greens’ Rohan Leppert “there were issues of transparency that needed to be addressed“. Leppert, like that of his predecessor Greens Councillor  Fraser Bindley before him, also supported closed meetings subverting s89 LGA

Self proclaimed “Transparency advocate” and new councillor Stephen Mayne @MayneReport has also continued the practice of secret meetings subverting s89 of the LGA

 
On November 27 The City Council held a “Decision by Proxy” Councillor Forum meeting locking out the public and community.  No reports and no minutes, No accountability.  No Transparency. Policy on the run hidden from public view. 

  • Open and transparent systems permit everyone to make informed choices, and give everyone access to information in an easily understood format

    Accountability is acting responsibly and being answerable for actions taken

    A lack of openness, transparency and insufficient accountability creates the conditions in which corruption flourishes

    The Internet is the ideal medium for cost effective delivery of information maintaining open and transparent government (eGovernance)

       

     

Section 89 Victorian Local Government Act 1989

Meetings to be open to the public
  • 89. Meetings to be open to the public

    (1) Unless subsection (2) applies, any meeting of a Council or a special
    committee must be open to members of the public.

    (2) A Council or special committee may resolve that the meeting be closed to
    members of the public if the meeting is discussing any of the following-

    (a) personnel matters;

    (b) the personal hardship of any resident or ratepayer;

    (c) industrial matters;

    (d) contractual matters;

    (e) proposed developments;

    (f) legal advice;

    (g) matters affecting the security of Council property;

    (h) any other matter which the Council or special committee considers
    would prejudice the Council or any person;

    (i) a resolution to close the meeting to members of the public.

    (3) If a Council or special committee resolves to close a meeting to members
    of the public the reason must be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

    (4) Unless subsection (4A) applies, a Council must at least 7 days before the
    holding of-

    (a) an ordinary council meeting; or

    (b) a special council meeting; or

    (c) a meeting of a special committee comprised solely of Councillors-

    give public notice of the meeting.

    (4A) If urgent or extraordinary circumstances prevent a Council from complying
    with subsection (4), the Council must-

    (a) give such public notice as is practicable; and

    (b) specify the urgent or extraordinary circumstances which prevented the
    Council from complying with subsection (4) in the minutes.

    (5) The Chairperson of a special committee that is not comprised solely of
    Councillors must provide reasonable notice to the public of meetings of the
    special committee.

       

CEO contract up for renewal next year

In what has become Melbourne’s worst kept secret – rumours are abound that Kathy Alexander will not be reappointed CEO next year when her contract expires in 2013.  It is well known that Robert Doyle and his team are not happy with Alexander’s performance.

Sources in the Council’s Governance Department have long been expressing the view that Robert Doyle does not support Kathy Alexander, with reports of ongoing conflict between the CEO and the Office of the Lord Mayor. 

The City Council under Kathy Alexander has been criticised for its lack of openness and transparency with more and more decisions of Council being made behind closed doors and without public accountability. A situation which could leave the City Council open to allegations of corruption and loss of public confidence.

There is no register or public record of decisions made under delegation.

In the night before Christmas City Council kicks-out Horse and Carriages from City Centre

The Melbourne City Council, just days before Christmas, under the clock of delegation has kicked-out the Horse and Carriages from Swanston Street opposite Town Hall

Signs that allowed Horse and Carriages to trade opposite the Town Hall were removed and  changed overnight.   Melbourne Street Traders who were effected by the decision had not been informed of the change.

No consultation, no documentation, a complete lack of open or transparent decision making.  The decision was made behind closed doors. and not listed for discussion on the Council’s Future Melbourne Committee.  The decision made at a time when the Council is not under scrutiny, Media are on holiday, Councillors are absent attending Christmas events and the public’s attention is on the festive season.

Outraged Street Traders stood for Council  in the October election and joined forces with Community candidates Kevin Chamberlin and Lord Mayor Candidate Brian Shanahan.  The Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle, and Councillors’ Mayne, Watts and Foster were elected on the back of preferences allocated by the Shanahan-Chamberlin Team.

Stakeholders and community representatives met with Councillor Richard Forster soon after the October Council elections to raise concerns.  Councillor Foster gave an undertaking to look into the matter but did not reply. Councillors appear to have been kept in the dark of the decisions with Councillor Ong, Chairman of the Council’s Planning Committee and Kevin Louey, unaware of the decisions made.

Efforts to contact  newly elected Councillors failed with Stephen Mayne and Richard Foster not returning Street Traders phone calls.

Melbourne’s Street Traders have expressed no confidence in the Council’s Engineering Department and  have called for Street Trading to be removed from Engineering and  placed under the auspice of Tourism and Small business were it belongs – a move supported by many of the City Councillors and State Tourism.

The Horse and Carriages provided a much needed attraction to the City with tourists, lovers and visitors keen to photograph the horses ad carriages opposite the Town Hall.  They add vitality and  interest to the city which is fast becoming more and more family unfriendly.

Melbourne’s Christmas Pageant Lacking Cultural Sensitvity

The City of Melbourne’s Christmas Pageant and Christmas Tree in the City Square is a  disgrace. It portrays a Northern Hemisphere European Christmas story and ignores Australia’s traditions.  The Organisers unaware of Australian Christmas traditions broadcast European Carrolls in preference to Australian Carrolls such as “Six White Boomers” which have a unique Australian theme.

The Christmas Tree itself is a European tradition as is the commercialization of Santa clause which has surpassed the original meaning of the Christian Mass.

Putting aside the arguments of whether the Council should be promoting sectoral  religious beliefs the failure of the organizers to provide an Australian context to the festive season is unforgivable.

If they are going to spend 10’s of thousands of dollars in a Christmas event then they could at least give it an Australian feel and theme. The staging of the Christmas event is lackluster, flung together with little thought and lacking imagination or creativity.  Score 2 out of 5

Mayne’s Whinge: Too many open Council meetings

 Less than one month into his term as a City elder and Stephen Mayne is already complaining about the number of open public meetings he has to attend.  Mayne thinks three meetings a month is too much and he would like to have them reduced to two. (So much for his commitment to transparency and accountability).  most decisions of Council are made behind closed doors and are not minuted or documented. The public or even the Council for that matter have no idea what decisions are being made in the name of the City Council. But three public meetings a month  is too many for Stephen.  Mayne did not get support from his fellow Councillors to have the meetings dates changed but he did foreshadow that we would be seeking to argue (behind closed doors no doubts ) for a reduction in the number of open public meetings sometime in the future. In doing so Mayne made reference to other City Councils who he said held only two such meetings a month.

Stephen has no community base and as such is accountable to no one.   He is a faction of one.  Whilst he seeks to form an alliance with the administration and is reported as not returning members of the local community and City traders phone calls. he is also oblivious to the fact that City of Melbourne Councillors receive substantially more money for their time (over $1,000 a week plus bonus payments, lurkes and lerks and other benefits) much more than in available in other municipalities. Mayne is also oblivious of the provisions of Section 89 of the Local Government Act.

Robert Doyle overseeing Melbourne’s commitment to democracy

Robert Doyle once again demonstrated that he was in control and that his mode of management was to provide the community input into the decisions of Council that do manage to get a mention on the Council’s agenda.  The Future Melbourne Committee meetings are the only chance members of the public get to express their concerns in an open public forum.  Unlike Stephen Mayne, Robert Doyle intends to retain this right and the opportunity for open transparent democracy.

Mind you the meetings do not really contribute much to the public discourse, but they do provide a forum for some Councillors to hear their own voice and practice public speaking in a closed forum in what is a bonus to the hoards of paid staff who are on the public payroll to attend the talk fests.  There were more staff then public in attendance, costing ratepayers a pretty penny in overtime or time-off in exchange.  It’s always good to see Councillor support staff, such as Jack, in attendance. Jack, alias the “Governance Elf”,  has been a valuable source of leaked information and gossip about what goes on behind the scenes.

Our award again goes to  Crs Watts and Louey who withheld the need to listen to their own voice and who just voted on the issues before them without debate.  This is efficiency at its best.  Stephen Mayne and other Councillors should learn from them.  The December 11 meeting was over within 90 minutes.

The Council Voice: Cross Examination of Witnesses

Last Tuesdays “Future Melbourne” All up council meeting was interesting to say the least, if not worthy of an event in Melbourne’s Comedy Show.

Cr Mayne dominated procedures and you would think he was the shows chairman.  At one stage in proceedings Cr Mayne referred to submitters  as Witnesses.  Clearly Councillor Mayne was at ease in the theatrics of the meeting even if he was confused by the fact that it was not a court of law.

Like that of  ballet performance each Councillor has their chance to shine on centre stage, although some shone more than others as  each Councillor took over the role of chairman depending on what topic was under consideration.  The Council spent an in-ordinate amount of time discussing various planning permits that managed to get referred to the Council  meeting for consideration only be deferred to next weeks meeting.

Councillor Mayne has clearly embarked on a policy and tactic of endorsing Staff recommendations this avoiding any changes or reflections of any real merit.  (It pas dividends at a later stage to keep the administration on side you never know when you may need a favour in exchange) Never the less Stephen Mayne gave a convincing performance and maintained eye contact and focus at all time showing confidence if not substance.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle was the only other player that demonstrated that experience counts when it comes to meeting etiquette and style.  One could not help but like his style.

There was an interesting movement, during the later stages of the meeting when Robert Doyle and Beverly Pinder-Mortium had left the meeting early,  when the numbers in the chamber were equally divided 4 for and 4 against and meeting had to rely on the casting vote of whoever was chairman at the time. Traditionally a casting vote should be cast to maintain the status quo or if there is none to the negative.   In any event a resolution of the committee that does not command the support of an absolute majority of the elected Council (6) the vote is referred to the full Council meeting for consideration.  In this tie breaker Cr Ong correctly ruled against a proposed amendment but then cast his deciding vote as chairman by ruling in favour of the substantive motion put forward by Cr Mayne.

Whilst the procedures of the Council may satisfy those who have an interest in the topics that have been placed on the agenda, and those who were granted the opportunity to have their three minutes presentation followed by a cross examination by Stephen Mayne,  what concerned me more was what was not on the agenda or listed in the Council papers.

Most issues are decided now-a-days by delegation, no one knows what decision are made and by who. Decisions are made behind closed doors  hidden form the public’s view. There is no `register of delegations and there is no central reporting of what decisions have been made in the name of the Council.  I tried to raise this issue at the end of the meeting but the Councillors sat there with be wielded faces not knowing what to do.  If there is no recommendation, script auto queue  before them they  dumfounded.

It would be good governance for the Council to at least review a list of delegations and request the publication of any decision made under delegation to be listed on the Council web site and a summary presented at Council’s Future Melbourne meetings.

It would be good if Council meeting could be web cast, if not informative it is at least entertaining and admission if free.

The Council Voice: Cross Examination of Witnesses

Last Tuesdays “Future Melbourne” All up council meeting was interesting to say the least, if not worthy of an event in Melbourne’s Comedy Show.

Cr Mayne dominated procedures and you would think he was the shows chairman.  At one stage in proceedings Cr Mayne referred to submitters  as Witnesses.  Clearly Councillor Mayne was at ease in the theatrics of the meeting even if he was confused by the fact that it was not a court of law.

Like that of  ballet performance each Councillor has their chance to shine on centre stage, although some shone more than others as  each Councillor took over the role of chairman depending on what topic was under consideration.  The Council spent an in-ordinate amount of time discussing various planning permits that managed to get referred to the Council  meeting for consideration only be deferred to next weeks meeting.

Councillor Mayne has clearly embarked on a policy and tactic of endorsing Staff recommendations this avoiding any changes or reflections of any real merit.  (It pas dividends at a later stage to keep the administration on side you never know when you may need a favour in exchange) Never the less Stephen Mayne gave a convincing performance and maintained eye contact and focus at all time showing confidence if not substance.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle was the only other player that demonstrated that experience counts when it comes to meeting etiquette and style.  One could not help but like his style.

There was an interesting movement, during the later stages of the meeting when Robert Doyle and Beverly Pinder-Mortium had left the meeting early,  when the numbers in the chamber were equally divided 4 for and 4 against and meeting had to rely on the casting vote of whoever was chairman at the time. Traditionally a casting vote should be cast to maintain the status quo or if there is none to the negative.   In any event a resolution of the committee that does not command the support of an absolute majority of the elected Council (6) the vote is referred to the full Council meeting for consideration.  In this tie breaker Cr Ong correctly ruled against a proposed amendment but then cast his deciding vote as chairman by ruling in favour of the substantive motion put forward by Cr Mayne.

Whilst the procedures of the Council may satisfy those who have an interest in the topics that have been placed on the agenda, and those who were granted the opportunity to have their three minutes presentation followed by a cross examination by Stephen Mayne,  what concerned me more was what was not on the agenda or listed in the Council papers.

Most issues are decided now-a-days by delegation, no one knows what decision are made and by who. Decisions are made behind closed doors  hidden form the public’s view. There is no `register of delegations and there is no central reporting of what decisions have been made in the name of the Council.  I tried to raise this issue at the end of the meeting but the Councillors sat there with be wielded faces not knowing what to do.  If there is no recommendation, script auto queue  before them they  dumfounded.

It would be good governance for the Council to at least review a list of delegations and request the publication of any decision made under delegation to be listed on the Council web site and a summary presented at Council’s Future Melbourne meetings.

It would be good if Council meeting could be web cast, if not informative it is at least entertaining and admission if free.

Payback: Council Credit on the line

Whilst embattled MP Craig Thomson faces allegations and charges for alleged misuse of Union funds arising from the Fair work Australia, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor and Senior Staff continue to ring up charges on their Council supplied Corporate Credit Card.  Members of the Council’s Governance team are constantly having to chase up on the Lord Mayor and staff to pay back money that has been accredited to the Council’s account. 

In Linda Weathersons  account these expenses do not show up on the Council expense statements as they have not been acquitted. 

Dodgy accounting aside, the fact is the use of the corporate card for personal expenses should not be allowed,  even just a short term personal loan or a question of convenience. 

Hopefully the media will FOI the Council for the copy of all staff’s credit card statements

The Council’s published expense statements  no longer show expenses related to overseas and interstate communication or travel. They’re instead hidden away in the consolidated Travel register.

Does that mean the Council is not reimbursing out of pocket expenses occurred whilst on junkets overseas and instead they are being paid an illegal  additional allowance, above and beyond the allowances set out under the Local Government Act?

The findings of the Thomson case  will have a far reaching effect well and beyond the confines of Federal Politics.

Payback: Council Credit on the line

Whilst embattled MP Craig Thomson faces allegations and charges for alleged misuse of Union funds arising from the Fair work Australia, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor and Senior Staff continue to ring up charges on their Council supplied Corporate Credit Card.  Members of the Council’s Governance team are constantly having to chase up on the Lord Mayor and staff to pay back money that has been accredited to the Council’s account. 

In Linda Weathersons  account these expenses do not show up on the Council expense statements as they have not been acquitted. 

Dodgy accounting aside, the fact is the use of the corporate card for personal expenses should not be allowed,  even just a short term personal loan or a question of convenience. 

Hopefully the media will FOI the Council for the copy of all staff’s credit card statements

The Council’s published expense statements  no longer show expenses related to overseas and interstate communication or travel. They’re instead hidden away in the consolidated Travel register.

Does that mean the Council is not reimbursing out of pocket expenses occurred whilst on junkets overseas and instead they are being paid an illegal  additional allowance, above and beyond the allowances set out under the Local Government Act?

The findings of the Thomson case  will have a far reaching effect well and beyond the confines of Federal Politics.