Tuesday, December 20, 2005

City Council closed sessions under review

There is growing concern that the Melbourne City Council have forgotten their responsibility and obligation to maintain Open and Transparent Governance of the City.

The City Council is not a private club for Councillors to do with what they want.

We have requested information related to the cost of Council's in-house-catering and in-bound missions (Interstate and overseas visitors who are guest of the city), the cost of the Lord Mayors limo and the Deputy Lord Mayor's car including cost of maintenance and petrol.

Information for some time has not been forthcoming.

This information is not confidential and there is no reason why this information is not readily available or presented to the Council on a regular basis in the Council's management reports.

There is a growing and worrying trend amongst Councillors and the Council staff that the public is being lock-out and denied right of access to information. Information that should be readily available is now only obtainable via application under the Freedom of Information Legislation.

This is contrary to the stated intentions and the directions of the State Attorney General, Rob Hulls, who is responsible for the administration of the FoI Act.

The recent decision of the City Council, as proposed and supported by Green Councillor Fraser Brindley "Shame Fraser Shame", to refer documents related to the financial cost and management of the Council to be considered in secret sessions "behind closed doors" is in breach of the Local Government Act Section 89 (extract of the Local Government Act below)

The questions we now ask are:

  • What is the status of the "Council's Information Exchange Sessions?"
  • Why are they secret closed meetings and not open to the public?
  • Under what authority and provisions of the Local Government Act are these clandestine sessions held?
  • Why is it that the reports presented to these meetings are not available to the public?

It is one thing to hold a pre-council get together to discuss items on the agenda informally but it's another issue when information and reports are presented to the Council in closed session gatherings and not released to the public.

It is the responsibility and professional duty of David Pitchford, CEO, and Linda Weatherston, Director Corporate Performance, to protect the rights of the public by ensuring that the Council conforms with the law at all times.

Our City Councillors must think twice before they act to lock out the public.

Those Councillors that continue to operate in this fashion must and will be held to account.

If they are in breach of the Local Government Act then it is up to the State Government and the Victorian State Parliament to step in and restore confidence in the governance and administration of the Council by ensuring that Council complies with the provision of the provision of the Local Government Act and protect the right for public access to information.

89. Meetings to be open to the public

(1) Unless sub-section (2) applies, any meeting of a
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
(c) industrial matters;
(d) contractual matters;
(e) proposed developments;
(f) legal advice;
(g) matters affecting the security of Council
(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) The Council must provide reasonable notice to the
public of meetings of the Council.

(5) The Chairperson of a special committee must
provide reasonable notice to the public of
meetings of the special committee.

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