Mayor’s rebuff comes back to haunt council

COCKBURN mayor Logan Howlett’s leadership under pressure was questioned during the authorised inquiry, but he might well feel somewhat aggrieved that it partly stems from an issue he tried to fix a decade ago.

The behaviour of some councillors at closed-doors briefing sessions was raised with department officials by fellow elected members and staff, including their “screaming” at CEO Stephen Cain, arguing with visitors who’d come to provide information, and even at times appearing to turn up drunk.

But while they vainly looked to the mayor to restore order, he argued he was hamstrung by the fact the sessions were being chaired by the CEO and he saw his role as “the same as all elected members”.

Mr Howlett told investigators he asked Mr Cain several times to address the bad behaviour, but believed it could have largely been avoided if he’d been running the show – something he’d tried to implement back in 2009 when first elected.

The department agreed, saying the council should “move away from the practice of the CEO chairing briefing sessions” so the mayor could stamp his authority on the behaviour; it would also prevent a blurring of lines between the roles of the council and the CEO.

The recommendations also called for a complete overhaul of the sessions and “consideration given” to opening them up to the public”.

Mr Howlett tried opening the sessions and chairing the meetings when he was first elected in 2009, but was rebuffed by a strong faction who were still aligned to former mayor Stephen Lee and angry at how they’d been portrayed in the new mayor’s campaign. Mr Lee was forced to resign after the last inquiry aimed at Cockburn – by the Corruption and Crime Commission – uncovered a developer secretly funnelling thousands of dollars into his campaign.

Mr Howlett did push through a six-month trial of public briefing sessions in 2009, but the doors were closed straight afterwards, with current councillors Lee-Anne Smith and Kevin Allen vocal in their opposition to keeping them open.

Cr Smith said at the time the council would still be “open and transparent” and “only a few people had been turning up to the meetings anyway”.

Cr Allen reiterated his opposition when Mr Howlett tried again two years later, saying there was “absolutely no benefit” to the sessions being open to the public.

Mr Howlett said he couldn’t comment with the inquiry report before the council this week.

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