THE state local government department has fired a warning shot across Melville council’s bow, saying tensions between staff and councillors is leading to “dysfunction”.
Five years after the department oversaw a major inquiry into the council, its acting director of local government Mustafa Yildiz has written to CEO Marten Tieleman giving him until April to come up with a plan to fix a range of issues.
In the letter, which the council has posted on its website, Mr Yildiz revealed the CEO met with department representatives on January 31 to discuss a number of issues, which expanded as the meeting drew on.
“The DLGSC’s concerns in relation to the City’s governance include:
• lack of formalised process for dealing with council member behavioural complaints;
• inappropriate questioning of staff by council members during council meetings and at other times;
• inappropriate council member conduct and behaviour toward other council members, and administrative staff;
• council members [sic] involvement in operational matters;
• number of items for council meetings being deferred by council;
• inappropriate interactions from members of the community with council members and administrative staff;
• appropriateness of council member motions;
• increasing costs for legal advice and legal services; and,
• duraction of council meetings,” Mr Yildiz wrote.
“…due to the number and nature of the concerns and issues identified at the City … we remain concerned that these issues are adversely impacting the relationshbips between council members and administrative staff, leading to further dysfunction and council decision making that will likely not be in the best interest of the City’s community.”
Mr Yildiz gave the council until close of business on April 28 to come up with an action plan.
Along with a list of actions to improve the City’s governance, such as making sure meeting procedures and the code of conduct are understood, Mr Yildiz also wants the council to “commit” to releasing a report into the council’s building and planning complaints produced by lawyer Bronwyn Weir.
The council’s planning department was at the heart of a wave of complaints lodged with the department prior to the 2018 inquiry, but the council has sat on the Weir report since it was completed in 2021.
Its governance committee, which is not open to the public, took control of the report in February 2022 and despite an advice note from former acting CEO Alan Ferris that the City wanted to release the report, councillor Jane Edinger later successfully moved for the report to remain confidential.
Mayor George Gear told the Herald he didn’t believe the department’s concerns were overly serious and was happy with how the council was operating. He says the first step is to meet department representatives again to get a better understanding of what their concerns are.
“We have some questions, such as why they’re questioning the length of our meetings,” Mr Gear said.
Early in the mayor’s tenure several meetings were carried over to a following week because too much business was outstanding by a 10pm deadline he set.
“I introduced the 10pm clause because staff had been there working from 8.30 in the morning and it’s not fair to keep them there any later than that,” Mr Gear said.
“One of the effects of that clause is that we get everything done by 10pm.”
He believes the complaint about inappropriate questioning of staff relates to a meeting in July last year where a staff member took exception to a councillor’s line of questioning.
“There are two ways you can ask a question, you can be pleasant of aggressive, and one staff member took the questioning from an elected member to be aggressive.”
Mr Gear said a councillor also asked to sit in on an administrative meeting, but he told them it was “out of order” as it strayed towards interfering in operational matters.
But he insists the City is travelling well.
“Last year we had, to October, 59,000 interactions with people, which is things like going out and asking for people’s opinion on a range of things, and out of that there were 170 complaints and 200 compliments,” Mr Gear said.
“So that’s some sort of barometer.
He says part of the legal costs blow-out comes from the $125,000 Weir Report, which he’d voted to make public and says he’ll be leading the charge to rescind the original decision.
“We will put it up again, I am duty bound after the department’s letter, to put it up again at the earliest opportunity,” Mr Gear said.
by STEVE GRANT