Staff power under fire

01. 41NEWS1

Cr June Barton

JUNE BARTON, a 25-year veteran of Melville city council, says it’s time for elected councillors to wrest back the authority they’ve ceded in recent years to increasingly powerful staff.

The former mayor says there’s been too much of a shift in the balance of power, with highly paid executives making decisions without telling the council, failing to pass on information and generally calling the shots as they see fit: “From my perspective I don’t feel that we’re treated with respect from the administration,” she says.

“Really, it’s lip service.

“The administration makes it difficult for me and probably lots of other councillors to get things done in the community.”

“I feel in many ways that the staff are standing in the way: If I can see things that need doing, I will do it… but when you do you get your hand slapped.”

If re-elected to Bicton-Attadale ward this month she says she’ll spearhead a charge to see more decisions made by the elected council, like they used to be.

“The council has chosen to delegate to its administration many of the decisions that used to be made by councillors,” she says.

“Some current councillors support this because it appears to be much more efficient, but I am one of those who want more of these decisions to be made by the full council.”

Cr Barton’s speaking out signals a growing frustration amongst some elected councillors about the level of control the executive exerts. In recent months Cr Barton, Cr Effie Nicholson and Cr Nick Pazolli have all criticised aspects of the way Melville runs its affairs, pitting them against conservative forces allied to mayor Russell Aubrey and CEO Shayne Silcox.

Cr Barton is deeply concerned the council’s code of conduct has morphed into a tool to suppress elected councillors from exercising free speech.

The code says, “elected members are not entitled to make public statements expressing their opinions on matters before the council” and any opinions that are expressed should not “criticise the conduct of council… nor should it undermine any existing policy or decision of the council.”

“The code of conduct is being reviewed, but by the officers, not by the councillors, and that’s a problem as far as I can see,” Cr Barton says.

“We need to have much more input into it, because otherwise it’s going to be very restrictive, and if we’re not careful we might not be able to operate at all.”

She says as long as councillors make it clear they’re expressing their own opinion, and not purporting to speak on behalf of the council, they should be able to criticise council decisions they do not agree with.

“People lose touch with you if you can’t get our there and speak,” she says.

Cr Barton recently supported Cr Nicholson’s motion to pull back the authority of the CEO, who’d been given the authority to sell assets valued up to $8 million without approval from the elected council.


2 responses to “Staff power under fire

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