MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire councillors were this week to again set to grapple with the concept of transparency and the release of information to the public.
Part of the shire’s official “mission” is “keeping you up to date with what is happening across the shire in an open and direct way”, but last month councillors voted five to four against publishing summaries of their secret discussions, or briefings, with officers.
Cr David Gill, who proposed the defeated motion, said while briefings were noted on agendas the details remained secret and it could be up to six months before they came back to council for a decision (Transparency backed, but ‘secret’ talks stay, The News 28/11/23).
At this week’s public meeting Cr Sarah Race asked her colleagues to spend $200,000 to $300,000 on establishing an online Transparency and Integrity Hub to provide “unprecedented access to the city’s finances and provide greater scrutiny over how council spends ratepayers’ money”.
Establishment of the hub would “allow the shire to be leaders in transparent and open government”.
The “broad and deep” information on the “digital portal” about finances, council decisions and activities would be “intuitive, interactive, auditable and downloadable by selection”.
“Stories will be developed to provide context to the data and to assist the community to discover more about how council works and to engage with council data based on areas of interest,” Race said in background notes to her notice of motion on the agenda at Tuesday’s public council meeting.
Customer and transformation manager Patrick Dillon, in a report on the agenda, said the hub proposal was being made “to address” the council’s poor community satisfaction survey results (Shire again misses survey satisfaction, The News 21/6/23).
Dillon said a Transparency and Integrity Hub would offer “streamlined access” to “selected” and “curated” information which “may” include financial records, asset management (the shire’s capital works program), procurement data “and more”.
“This online hub will allow visitors to explore and visualise data, providing an overview of the shire’s decision-making and activities. This will require the procurement of a suitable web-based platform to publish these datasets for open consumption.
“It will also require the collection, cleansing and curation of each dataset to ensure it is accurate and ready for release.”
After Gill’s notice of motion was defeated last month, he said listening to the arguments against providing more information reminded him of the saying: There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.
Race, who opposed Gill’s motion but now wants a Transparency and Integrity Hub, said “It comes back to the unintended consequences of a little bit of information because they say, to use that expression, a little bit of information is dangerous.”