The key to good governance

STEVE KEPERT is a Melville councillor. In this week’s Thinking Allowed he goes behind the scenes on what he says shouldn’t have been a particularly controversial imotion. He says: “The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of the City of Melville.”

FOR governments to function properly, elected representatives need to be able to perform their roles without fear or favour.

One of the main functions of a councillor, which separates them from the public and from administrations, is their ability to raise, debate and vote on motions. 

Councillors should be able to be heard openly and fairly if the council is to appropriately govern for their residents.

At the same time, the public should have confidence that their local governments are complying with their legislative requirements. 

Virtually every inquiry that uncovered governance failures in local governments was prefaced by occurrences of legislative non-compliance, often systemic. 

Two weeks ago the Herald ran the article “Melville meeting descends into shouting match” which was based on unbalanced accounts of any number of councillors and officers inside the chamber after it went behind closed doors. 

Interested parties wanting to know what the council did behind those closed doors have discovered the city’s admin is keeping it all secret. 

Indeed, the only reason the public even has any idea a motion took place inside the chamber on May 18 is because it was revealed to the press by councillors and/or officers who were present. The motion was absent from the city’s website prior to the meeting, and is absent from the minutes now. 

At this meeting I raised a motion with notice calling for an independent consultant to assist council in creating a performance management plan for the CEO. 

The council closes this section of the meeting to the public. 

This motion and others are missing from the city’s minutes despite it being a requirement of the Local Government Act and associated regulations. 

Confidential

The article stated that a “confidential motion” took place; that I “demanded” the CEO and officers be removed from the meeting; that the motion was “motivated by a desire to undermine the CEO”; and that I was unable to get “initiatives” on the agenda. All these statements are profoundly untrue.

First the motion was not “confidential”: there is no such thing as a “confidential motion” in local government. 

Second, I did not “demand” that the officers leave the chamber: such an action would be pointless. 

Instead, I moved a procedural motion that the officers remove themselves from the meeting in line with the city’s Meeting Procedures Local Law. 

This is a normal function for such a motion at an appropriately performing local government. 

That procedural motion failed to get a majority. I accept this outcome, but it too is missing from the meeting’s minutes.

The motion I raised was a basic governance process. 

There is no evidence to suggest a “desire to undermine the CEO” and those comments are simply misguided and suggest bias. 

What followed was unfortunate but not abnormal in my experience as a Melville councillor. 

It was disappointing the item could not be properly discussed and met with much antagonism. 

Realising the officers would not leave and that the procedural motion did not receive majority support I advised the council not to speak too openly on the matter for their own safety. 

I however pursued with the motion so it could be voted on.

It had a solitary speaker in opposition claiming the City of Melville risked breaching workplace laws but there was no evidence to support this view. 

Indeed, the motion was formulated with close attention to the city’s legislative and contractual requirements, with regulatory advice and by an experienced individual.

There appears to be a sizeable gulf between the motion and how it is perceived by some. I encouraged councillors to consider the motion objectively, rationally, and not be persuaded by partiality or emotion. 

The CEO of a local government is required to include all motions in the meeting’s minutes. 

These motions, including their title, are absent and the reason for doing so remains unexplained. 

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