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.
“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…”…..
“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.