Coun­cil to close ranks

Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - OPINION - Tim Slater

A CITY of Belmont staff re­port has warned that open­ing in­for­ma­tion fo­rums and stand­ing com­mit­tees to mem­bers of the public could lead to a “very real rep­u­ta­tional risk” to the city.

It could also be “coun­ter­pro­duc­tive” to good gov­er­nance.

The re­port was pro­vided for back­ground in­for­ma­tion to a mo­tion moved by Coun­cil­lor Pa­trick Gard­ner in March to open the meet­ings to the public.

Cr Gard­ner’s pro­posal was re­ferred to a spe­cial in­for­ma­tion fo­rum for fur­ther dis­cus­sion be­fore it was voted on at the coun­cil’s May meet­ing.

He said it would “pro­vide greater trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity to the elec­tors of the City of Belmont”.

“The stan­dards and prac­tices for con­fi­den­tial items are to be ob­served, as is un­der­taken for ‘Mat­ters for which the meet­ing may be Closed’ dur­ing Agenda Brief­ing Fo­rums and Or­di­nary Coun­cil meet­ings,” he said in his re­port to coun­cil.

A staff re­port said coun­cil­lors could not be ex­pected to talk openly and frankly, and may not con­trib­ute to meet­ings in the same way if there were mem­bers of the public present if in­for­ma­tion fo­rums were opened to the public.

No de­ci­sions are made at in­for­ma­tion fo­rums, which en­cour­age dis­cus­sion in a less for­mal en­vi­ron­ment.

“Stand­ing Com­mit­tees were open to the public prior to in­tro­duc­tion of the Agenda Brief­ing Fo­rum” it said.

“How­ever this did not work well. Dur­ing the meet­ings, busi­ness of­ten could not be con­ducted be­cause of in­ter­rup­tions, with peo­ple and de­vel­op­ers hav­ing to be re­moved from the meet­ings due to bad be­hav­iour.”

The re­port said there had been no ev­i­dence coun­cil de­ci­sions were not trans­par­ent.

“It is dif­fi­cult to find any tan­gi­ble ben­e­fit to the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process or the com­mu­nity by amend­ing the cur­rent prac­tice to al­low public at­ten­dance at in­for­ma­tion fo­rums and stand­ing com­mit­tees,” it said.

“Po­ten­tial con­fu­sion that may arise from a public per­spec­tive presents a very real rep­u­ta­tional risk for the city and is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.

“It is im­por­tant for ef­fec­tive man­age­ment that coun­cil­lors, the CEO and rel­e­vant staff are af­forded the op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss mat­ters of con­cept and strat­egy etc. in an en­vi­ron­ment that is con­ducive, such as the in­for­ma­tion fo­rum, with­out un­nec­es­sary public scru­tiny.”

Cr Gard­ner was not at the meet­ing, but the sec­on­der of his mo­tion, Coun­cil­lor Lau­ren Cay­oun said open­ing the meet­ings would in­crease the coun­cil’s trans­parency.

It would give peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to look a lit­tle more closely at the coun­cil’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing process.

“It would be a good way for res­i­dents to en­gage a lot more deeply with coun­cil with is­sues that mat­ter to them,” Cr Cay­oun said.

The mo­tion was lost, 3-5.

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