“Bickering” hurts council


“Bickering” hurts council


A LONG serving councillor with South Gippsland Shire has accused some of her colleagues of grandstanding ahead of the October council election.

Cr Jeanette Harding last Wednesday called for councillors to stop “bickering” and not look to the election, after a row erupted at the meeting.

“Our constituents should wonder what the devil they have elected,” she said.

Crs Don Hill and Andrew McEwen said they were being gagged from talking about council’s draft budget after Cr Jim Fawcett moved a motion to make budget discussion from December 9 and 16, 2015, confidential.

Crs Hill and McEwen have long been at the centre of vocal debate at council meetings.

Cr Hill said the motion smacked of a lack of transparency and gagging, given councillors face the risk of an $18,000 fine for breaching confidentiality.

“I view this whole process as deplorable,” he said.

“I understand this is the first time the draft budget has been declared confidential.

“One is led to believe the reason is to deny ratepayers the opportunity to debate the draft budget.”

Cr McEwen said council had a choice between two cultures.

“One is about being open and having transparency. The other is the old power bloc here wanting to make decisions behind closed doors. That is a common complaint I get,” he said.

Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks said he was offended by Cr McEwen’s comments, saying he did not believe blocs existed.

“I believe that in council the majority very rarely gets it wrong,” Cr Hutchinson-Brooks said.

Cr Mohya Davies said confidentiality clauses were designed to protect councillors by assuring them they could have confidential discussions.

Cr Fawcett called for Cr Hill to stop writing letters to newspapers about council matters.

Cr Fawcett’s motion was carried with the votes of himself, Cr Lorraine Brunt, mayor Cr Bob Newton, Cr Davies and Cr Hutchinson-Brooks. Councillors Kieran Kennedy, Harding, McEwen and Hill voted against it.

On Friday, council CEO Tim Tamlin issued a statement saying he was disappointed by the “bunkum” at the meeting.

He said Cr Hill’s claim officers were trying to “gag” officers was “ridiculous”.

“Council uses the confidentiality of briefings and some committees as a way to foster robust discussions and the frank exchange of ideas,” he said.

“Without the protection of confidentiality people would temper their contribution lest it be used against them in the public realm.”

He also criticised Cr Ewen for “liberally” tossing figures around during debate.

“While it is true South Gippsland Shire Council is 31 per cent higher than the state average for decisions made in closed sessions, Cr McEwen did not go on to say that South Gippsland made just 16 per cent of its decisions in camera while the state average is 12.2 per cent. This is a variation of just 3.8 per cent, which is effectively only one more confidential decision than the average council,” he said.

“This is well within the State Government’s acceptable range of up to 30 per cent.”

Mr Tamlin said of the 19 confidential decisions made in 2014-15, nine were related to the awarding of contracts, five were to do with providing grants, two were regarding the audit committee, one was to approve the Australia Day Awards recipients and another was the CEO’s performance review.

“That leaves just one other matter – in the whole financial year – which council considered in confidence in case it prejudiced anyone,” he said.

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Posted by on Mar 1 2016. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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