AFTER months of debate, meetings behind closed doors, advice from experts and calling for public comments, Mornington Peninsula Shire councillors are again facing delays in adopting rules under which the shire operates.
The Governance Rules adopted at last Tuesday’s (24 August) meeting must again be voted on following a late night move by Cr Steve Holland.
With just minutes to spare before the new Governance Rules would have come into force (11.59pm), Cr Steve Holland lodged a notice of motion to revoke them “entirely, including and all parts as they relate to this item [3.2]”. The meeting ended at 11.30pm. His move was up for debate last night, Monday (30 August).
Much of the debate leading up to the rules being adopted centred around last minute amendments sought by Cr Sarah Race.
Cr Race’s 11th hour bid to reword some parts of the Governance Rules were labelled as “not being thought through properly”, a “last minute ambush” and being “full of loopholes”.
A majority of councillors saw the amendments as “democracy at work” and as containing “nothing here [that is] completely out of nowhere”.
The amendments suggested by Cr Race were not revealed at the council’s 24 August public meeting until debate over Governance Rules had been running for almost one hour.
Cr Race apologised, saying home schooling, COVID and late nights had made it “a bit of a process for me”, before explaining why she wanted to re-word some of the 60 rules, including notices of motion and council meeting running times.
However, she was ”committed to the process of good governance” and added “we’re all in the same storm, different boats”.
Cr David Gill said councillors had been discussing the Governance Rules for four months and Cr Race had not raised her amendments at the pre-meeting before council went live online.
“Councillors opposed to this are caught on the hop,” he said.
Cr Gill said that other councillors had previously told him “we don’t like surprises, David”, particularly when it came to notices of motion, although they had to be lodged five days before a meeting.
Cr Gill described the changes sought by Cr Race as undemocratic and following the state government’s “model” aimed at “keeping councils under control” by giving more power to chief executive officers.
“They like the executives to be in control because they can deal with them,” he said. “This is about councillors not being able to speak out on behalf of their communities.”
Cr Susan Bissinger was “incredibly disappointed” but the late introduction of Cr Race’s amendments: “It’s a last minute ambush.”
Cr Antonella Celi “could not reconcile” how the amendments had been accepted after the Governance Rules had already undergone “such a long pro0cess”.
“I’m glad this meeting is being live streamed so the community can see how the council operates,” she said.
Cr Celi said under the rules proposed by Cr Race notices of motion being included on council agendas “could depend on the subjective mood of the CEO”.
Cr Debra Mar believed the amendments “being thrown at me this evening … sets a precedent for loopholes” and had not been thought through properly.
Cr Paul Mercurio said the changes “were not substantial” and he regretted an earlier decision that had seen the clauses in the amendment dropped.
“I realise my [past] decision was incorrect and [by supporting the amendment] I’m making amends for that,” he said.
Cr Anthony Marsh said the amendments “are not something sprung on us, they’re not new”.
“Formal notice” of Cr Holland’s recission motion was lodged before the new Governance Rules came into effect at 11.59 that night. The timing was declared by the governance director and in-house lawyer Amanda Sapolu after being pressed for a definitive answer several times during the meeting by Cr Holland.
Half an hour later and Cr Holland’s motion could have been rejected by CEO John Baker.
Cr Holland later told his Facebook followers that the council had voted to “relegate itself and hand over significant authority to unelected bureaucrats”
“Councillors will no longer be able to raise and debate important issues unless officers allow it to be added to the agenda.
“It will come as no surprise to many of you that your council is controlled by an exclusionary voting block [sic] that refuses to consider important community issues on their merits. Caucusing and a complete disregard for public sentiment has become the norm.”
He then asked: “Do you believe the public is increasingly being shut out of local decision-making?”
Move to trim budget
CR ANTHONY Marsh wants his colleagues to reconsider how much they spend on catering at meetings and functions and to redirect what’s left over to community projects.
He was set to ask at last night’s (30 August) meeting that officers pinpoint money allocated for food and drink in the 2021/22 budget, including at council meetings and briefings. Their report, to come to the 7 September meeting, will include year-to-date spending and an updated forecast over the same period, a summary of existing policy and resolutions relating to the provision of food, drink, and catering for visitors, contractors, councillors and council staff.
“This motion seeks to identify potential and appropriate reductions to the financial year 2021/22 catering budget,” Cr Marsh said. “An adjustment resulting from COVID-19 and a shift away from the more traditional format of meals provided at meetings and events would unlock previously allocated funds that could be re-purposed [for] community projects.”