THREE Melville city councillors have been ordered by the council CEO to explain their “no” vote on a motion that relates to council planning staff.
As well as the extraordinary demand from CEO Shayne Silcox, senior council officer Jeff Clark has claimed that because their votes are not in sync with the rest of their colleagues, there was “a risk” of the public assuming “dishonesty exists within the staff of the city”.
The trio ordered includes former mayor June Barton—a 20-year-plus veteran on the council—who bridled at being issued a diktat from a paid functionary.
“I believe that a request to an elected member to supply reasons for voting in a particular way may be in conflict with the administrative law principle that ‘a decision-maker cannot act under dictation or at the behest of another person’” she told Dr Silcox.
The motion Dr Silcox is demanding answers about sought to criticise the Herald over an article’s “inferred [sic] slur” against planning staff (“Power push,” September 27, 2014). In that article, Cr Nick Pazolli had called for approvals on all oversize multi-unit developments to be made by the elected council, not by staff. The current delegated authority system leaves too many people in the dark and opens the door for corruption, he warns, with developers able to offer inducements for tweaking approvals, with such behaviour almost impossible to spot. He’d stressed he was “not alleging bribery has occurred”.
But Cr Cameron Schuster was offended by Cr Pazolli suggesting there was the remotest potential for corruption: he lodged the notice of motion expressing full confidence in staff, and asked the mayor to write a stern letter to the Herald, including that the article contained an “inferred [sic] slur”.
The motion passed overwhelmingly, despite councillors’ Barton, Pazolli and Susanne Taylor-Rees “no” vote.
The council’s governance committee wasn’t happy the trio didn’t toe the line, and demanded to know their reasons for straying. Cr Trish Phelan originally sought to demand the committee “determine if any further action should be taken” but in the end the committee settled on directing Dr Silcox to write to the trio.
Despite her misgivings about the propriety about even being asked, Cr Barton told Dr Silcox she believed the motion had lumped too many things together and if another motion was proposed, with the issues separated, she might reconsider.
Cr Taylor-Rees told him the motion had over-reached: “In discussing this issue with senior staff, in particular the reference of a slur, it was suggested to me that it was an extreme interpretation.”
Cr Pazolli said he would offer no explanation, beyond his comments on the night that Cr Schuster’s motion was “deliberately aimed at embarrassing me”.
by EDDIE ALBRECHT and DAVID BELL
TO target the three councillors for exercising their right to vote as they see fit is in our view an attack on democratic principles.
Cr Barton is correct to give the CEO a ticking off for even writing to them.
The Herald’s original story made it clear Cr Pazolli was not claiming corruption existed but was concerned approval processes involving large apartment blocks needed to be more transparent.
Imagine waking up to find four-storey apartments going up next door which are bigger than planning laws allow.
How could you be sure the developer hadn’t offered an inducement to get the non-compliant project waived through, thus avoiding the extra red tape of the Joint Development Assessment Panels?
You couldn’t, and that’s Cr Pazolli’s point; he wants non-compliant applications run by the city’s elected officials as a safeguard. He also wants all affected property owners informed so they can have their say.
To pretend bureaucrats—or elected officials—are beyond temptation and need no oversight is to ignore the lessons of the CCC investigation into Stirling council or the ICAC probes into NSW politicians.
Transparency International says “corruption thrives… where institutional checks on power are missing, where decision making is opaque”.
Putting mechanisms in place to prevent backhanders isn’t saying staff are corrupt: It’s good governance.
It’s also a vital role of councillors—the eyes and ears of their constituents—to constantly check the system has the highest standards.