Friday, 7 November 2014

The lack of transparency in local government governance in the Clarence Valley has come to the attention of mainstream media

The Clarence Valley Review didn’t mince matters on  October 2014:

Clarence Valley Council will not be sharing the details of its legal proceedings with the valley’s ratepayers, if the council maintains the decision taken at last week’s council meeting.
When it came to a vote, all of the councillors (Cr Sue Hughes was absent) accepted general manager Scott Greensill’s and mayor Richie Williamson’s position – and adopted the council officer’s recommendation to receive and note the quarterly legal proceedings report.
Both men told councillors that, according to advice provided by the council’s insurance company, that the public should not be privy to those details as it could put the council’s insurance policy in jeopardy.
At the July council meeting, councillors unanimously supported Cr Karen Toms’ notice of motion (after amendments were made, including the non disclosure of names in certain cases when security and privacy issues were involved): “That Council be provided with an update report on at least a quarterly basis in relation to legal proceedings taken by or against the Council.”
When the July meeting’s minutes were published, they were done so with the following links to the council’s 10-year community plan: “Theme – Our Leadership; Objective – We will have a strong, accountable and representative Government; and, Strategy – Provide open, accountable and transparent decision making for the community.”
However, when the council’s October Corporate, Governance & Works committee papers were published, the linkage principals were changed to: “Theme – Our Leadership; Objective – We will have an effective and efficient organisation; and Strategy – Ensure Council operations are supported by the most effective internal service provision and governance structures.”
The report attached to the business item was confidential (for councillors’ eyes only), despite the business paper making no mention of this fact – this was not amended in the week between the committee meeting and the ordinary council meeting.
Meanwhile, Ballina Shire Council (BSC) regularly publishes details of its legal proceedings.
“As a public authority Council is regularly involved in legal matters,” the minutes for the April Ballina council meeting states. “This report provides an update on matters that have been subject to court action or may result in court action…”…..
At last week’s council meeting, Cr Toms questioned why two names of people involved in legal action with the council were not disclosed to councillors.
“They can be found on the Lawlink website,” she said.
Councillor Toms later told the Review that the councillors “have never been told about those cases [before receiving the report] … and we get a confidential report with the names not disclosed”.
“Why are they being withheld in a confidential document when it’s on the public record? It’s absurd that we can’t be told,” she said.
The Clarence Valley Review put a series of questions to the general manager, Scott Greensill, through the council’s media officer – a request to interview Mr Greensill was not forthcoming.
He responded indirectly with the following statement: “Clarence Valley Council general manager, Scott Greensill, said he had acted on advice from the council’s insurers that council, and therefore ratepayers, would be exposed to unnecessary risk of litigation if the information was published.

A wise man once observed that legal advice received depends on exactly what questions were asked of a legal team or of insurers and how these questions were worded – noting at the time that it is local government administration which gets to frame these questions not elected councillors.

Perhaps the difference in levels of local government transparency between Clarence Valley and Ballina Shire councils is that Ballina has an administration not mired in a culture of secrecy and antagonistic to the idea of representative democracy in local government.

As the court cases in question are a matter of public record and their hearing dates able to be accessed on the Internet, I would venture to guess that the names allegedly withheld from councillors are those cited at the October 2014 Corporate, Governance & Works Committee meeting - Gillian Bourke and Melissa Ryan, who in two separate matters have taken Clarence Valley to court.

One of the names which was probably also listed in the confidential report is that of Dr. Anne Collins who is appealing the judgment in Collins v Clarence Valley Council (No 3) [2013] NSWSC 1682 and by rights Kerry Susanne McErlean v Clarence Valley Council and Lorraine Carroll v Clarence Valley Council trading as Clarence Valley Council should also be on the that confidential list.

It seems to be the second time that Ms. Carroll has taken council to court.



Ursula Tunks said...

Excellent!! Thank you.

Ursula Tunks said...

Is it okay to promote this petition:

Anonymous said...

OMG - "it'll interfere with their insurance premiums!

Pull the other one.