DESPITE knowing it would be a breach of the Local Government Act, Cr David Gill says he won’t sign a councillors’ code of conduct unless it is changed to lift the veil of secrecy involved in decision making.
“Too many things are debated in private [by Mornington Peninsula Shire councillors], the public hardly gets to hear anything,” Cr Gill said.
The clock is ticking for Cr Gill with just two council meetings to go before the one-month signing deadline.
If he has not signed the code before Monday 13 March Cr Gill will lose his right to be a councillor.
Cr Gill claims to have been gagged at the Monday 20 February council meeting when the mayor Cr Bev Colomb refused to accept amendments he proposed for the code on conduct.
“I didn’t get a chance to change it; I was denied the opportunity to change it,” he said.
Cr Gill said he accepted some of the changes to the code but believed it worked in opposition to the council’s stated aims of wanting to be transparent.
He said more information, especially about planning matters, should be publicly available.
Cr Gill said most planning matters were being decided “under delegation” by council officers although councillors were now “waking up to the fact there’s a need for them to speak with the officers”.
“Everything seems to be classed as a confidential working paper, which means councillors aren’t allowed to speak about them in public.
“All briefing papers are marked confidential, but they shouldn’t be. That would be transparency, and we haven’t got it right.”
Transparency was the word most frequently used by Cr Gill in the amendments he sought to the code of conduct.
“My additions and alterations to our version basically make transparency a main message … I also believe that the community will appreciate this additional emphasis,” Cr Gill stated in an email to his fellow councillors when explaining his reasons for seeking to amend the code.
The email was sent pone day before the 20 February public council meeting.
Basically, Cr Gill wanted them to agree to promoting “openness to scrutiny, transparency and accountability” in most council decisions.
During the meeting the mayor Cr Bev Colomb told Cr Gill he was “testing things at the moment”.
Cr Hugh Fraser (who signed the previous code of conduct under protest): “Those provisions of the old code of conduct, for example, that prevented criticism of other councillors for the way in which they debate and way they exercise their vote in council have been excised in the interests of promoting openness and free speech in council and adhering to our democratic traditions.”
Governance manager Joe Spiteri said councillors could bring back amendments to the code “and the administration will act accordingly”.
In a statement issued by the shire three days later, the mayor Cr Colomb was quoted as saying she “expects the newly-adopted councillor code of conduct to further strengthen council’s governance and maintain the highest standards of conduct and behaviour in the best interests of our communities”.
The shire’s media department did not respond when asked for further comment from the mayor.
The code can be viewed at shire offices or online at mornpen.vic.gov.au/councillors