Using code of conduct policies to stifle both debate and transparency

Many of our members are reporting their councils’ abuse in establishing Councillor Codes of Conduct. Joe Lenzo, leading RV’s special investigation task force into this matter, is confirming that many councils are using the code of conduct policies to stifle both debate and transparency. The most publicized case is from Monash Council (case 1, case 2).

Joe Lenzo’s reports:

“What it happening is that the block of councillors in power are setting up the code to stop councillors in disagreement from debating issues or bringing issues to the public.  Some of the wording in the codes is so vague and ambiguous that anything a councillor does could be a violation and, here again, give cause to shut down opposing points of view. A couple of good examples:

  • The shire’s draft charter prohibits distribution of material marked “confidential or which by its content could be reasonably considered to be of a confidential nature”.  I mean really, who is to decide this?
  • “An overriding concern ought to be in achieving a balance in the matters that are communicated and strive to achieve an outcome that presents Council as effective, cohesive and competent”.  Even if not true.
  •  The word “accurately” in the Model Code becomes “adequately” in the shire code. “Adequately” rather than “Accurately”!

Why do we need 79 councillor codes of conducts when one will suffice?

Local Government Victoria should write the councillor code of conduct which will insure consistency across councils. It will insure consistency of councillor conduct and stop the bullying tactics of the block in power at the time the code is written.  It would take the politics out of the code.

If councils want to expand on the code to go into more detail about what it means and how it is applied then that would be OK.  But they must be reined in from their current practices.

This concept should be followed in writing officer code of conduct also.

One must wonder if the violations of the code of conduct are actually bad conduct or just rebellion against stupid codes (like putting your hands on top of your head before you can make a motion).

This is just another example of councils abusing their powers to thwart transparency by expanding the rules of confidentially.”

 

 

Results of Councils’ Rates Variation Applications

The ESC just released their decisions of the rates variation applications submitted by a number of councils. They are:

9 out of 79 councils (11%) applied and 67% of applicants received approvals. This shows at least 89% of councils have the capacity to lower rates –  if we include the 3 unsuccessful rate variation applications, the real figure is 73 councils or 92% can afford lower rates for their communities.

The full report of the rational decisions and underpinning reasons are found in Overview-of-Local-Government-higher-cap-decis…pdf (159kb)  and there is the Q&A resource    Approving higher caps – Questions and Answers.

We anticipate several councils and highly possibility peak bodies will be spilling “blood” in the street, with ESC the main target.  If and when this behaviour reaction realises, then a lot will be revealed about and confirm the good governance culture of our councils and their peak bodies.

The decision report is rational, of high professional quality and based on very clear decision criteria that were well communicated upfront before the rates variation process commenced.  Applicants also had many opportunities to consult with the ESC, to ensure their applications meet the criteria.

Monash Mayor Misconduct @ Citizenship Ceremony

What does this article says about the Monash Mayor’s understanding of good governance?

Julia Rabar of Waverley Leader, reported on 26 January , 2015 (original source http://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/east/monash-mayor-paul-klisaris-cops-backlash-over-vote-labor-appeal-at-citizenship-ceremony/story-fngnvlxu-1227197046847)

Monash Mayor Paul Klisaris cops backlash over ‘vote Labor’ appeal at citizenship ceremony

Monash Mayor Paul Klisaris speaks at the council’s citizenship ceremony. Picture: Lawrenc

MONASH Mayor Paul Klisaris has been lambasted by his Liberal colleagues for a “tongue-in-cheek” comment appealing for new Australian citizens to vote Labor.

Addressing 42 new citizens at the council’s Australia Day citizenship ceremony today, Cr Klisaris said Australians could vote however they chose, “but we’d prefer it if you voted Labor”.

> > > Was the comment inappropriate? Tell us below.

Cr Klisaris later defended his comments, saying there was freedom of speech in Australia and he didn’t think his comment would have “swayed anyone” to vote Labor.

“I think people are being a little bit precious, it was all tongue in cheek,” Cr Klisaris said.

“I turned to our guests and apologised.”

But Mt Waverley state Liberal MP Michael Gidley and Monash councillor Robert Davies, who ran for the Liberal Party in the recent state election, were less than impressed.

Mr Gidley said it was “disgraceful” and “completely inappropriate” for the mayor to use Australia Day as a platform for party political purposes.

“The purpose of Australia Day is to recognise our history, and look forward to the future,” Mr Gidley said.

Cr Davies also said the mayor’s comments were “disgraceful”, particularly in front of new Australians.

“It also shows a lack for respect for his colleagues,” Cr Davies said.

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Dumped: Labor candidate for Hotham, Monash Councillor Geoff Lake

 Quote from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd:

‘‘If you’re going to talk about a new way for Australian politics, which is positive, not negative, brings people together, doesn’t divide people, but also is respectful of people, including their gender, then I believe you’ve got to take some hard decisions from time to time. That’s what we’ve done, and I stand by them.’’

The Prime Minister had issued a statement late on Saturday night saying he had asked for Mr Lake to be disendorsed following an investigation by ALP national secretary George Wright and said ” …….I cannot be confident that he has met the standards that I would expect and demand from members of the federal parliamentary Labor Party.”

Read more from the Age 10 Aug 2013

ABC News (11 Aug 2013) also reported

The Labor Party’s election campaign has been stunned by the loss of two candidates in one day, just a week into the campaign.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been forced to dump the Labor Party’s candidate for the safe Victorian seat of Hotham, Geoff Lake, over his failure to disclose an altercation with a colleague 11 years ago.

Meanwhile, Labor’s charge for the north Queensland seat of Kennedy, Ken Robertson, has stood aside over comments he made about Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Last night Mr Rudd issued a statement saying he had requested the party’s national executive remove Mr Lake as the endorsed Labor candidate for Hotham.

Mr Lake, a Monash councillor, last month won a bitterly fought pre-selection to contest the seat being vacated by long-serving Labor frontbencher Simon Crean.

Mr Crean’s former seat is currently a very safe Labor electorate, with a margin of 14 per cent.

But Mr Lake lost the Prime Minister’s confidence after he was forced to apologise for verbally abusing a fellow councillor during an argument at a Monash Council meeting 11 years ago.

News Corporation newspapers reported that Mr Lake apologised to the woman at the time and regretted his actions.

“I was a young mayor and I got angry one night and I spoke to her in angry way, which I acknowledged then and I acknowledge now,” Mr Lake said, according to News Corp.

Mr Rudd says he has stepped in.

“Earlier today, I asked the National Secretary to report on a range of allegations concerning Mr Lake’s conduct in his previous career in local government – in particular his conduct in relation to fellow councillors at the City of Monash Council,” Mr Rudd said.

“The National Secretary has informed me that he is not satisfied that there has been full disclosure about these previous matters.

“Based on the investigation, I have concluded that it is inappropriate for Mr Lake to continue as the endorsed Labor Candidate for Hotham.

“As such I cannot be confident that he has met the standards that I would expect and demand from members of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.”

Within minutes Mr Lake’s profile had been removed from the party’s website. Mr Lake has not returned the ABC’s phone calls.”

More news visit:

  1. ABC news 11 Aug 2103
  2. News.com.au
  3. The Age 10 Aug 2103
  4. The Australian 10 Aug 2103

A few weeks ago, this is what Geoff Lake had to say about he representing ALP’s “generation next”  – click here to watch the video.

Ratepayers may not be aware of the Councillors misusing their positions

Eugene Benson from Moonee Valley Weekly reports (26 Mar 2013):

Councillor Shirley Cornish to face courtHappier times: Former mayor Shirley Cornish will face court in April. Picture: Michael Copp

 

FORMER Moonee Valley mayor and current Rosehill ward councillor Shirley Cornish will appear in the Broadmeadows Magistrates Court on April 4 to face a charge related to her actions while mayor in 2010.

Cr Cornish is the second Moonee Valley councillor to be charged by the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate after its investigation into allegedly improper payments made to the city’s former chief executive Rasiah Dev. Cr Cornish has been charged with one breach of section 76D of the Local Government Act 1989 for the alleged misuse of her position to obtain an advantage for Mr Dev.

It is alleged that as a consequence of the misuse of her position, Mr Dev gained an advantage of more than $13,600.

The charge specifically relates to an allegation that Cr Cornish signed a document with a council letterhead that endorsed a variation to Mr Dev’s contract. That variation is believed to be a 5 per cent wage increase resulting in a $13,600 gain for the former chief executive. Any variation to a chief executive’s payment is required to be brought before the entire council.

In December, fellow Moonee Valley councillor Paul Giuliano was found guilty by the Broadmeadows Magistrates Court on a similar charge relating to his time as mayor in 2009.

He was handed a $1000 fine, but was allowed to continue all normal duties as a Buckley ward councillor.

The Weekly understands Cr Cornish’s hearing may last for three days and include as many as 30 witnesses. Cr Cornish would not be drawn to comment on the charge but is expected to plea not guilty.

By choosing that plea she would leave herself open to paying legal fees if proven guilty.

Mr Dev left the council in April 2010 and is now Darebin Council’s chief executive. Darebin Council has been subject to its own external investigation since appointing Mr Dev.

Above the Law

Tessa Hoffman from the Monee Valley Leader ( 19 Dec 2012) reported:

Councillor guilty over illegal pay rise

 

A MOONEE Valley councillor has pleaded guilty to misusing his position to get a former council chief executive a pay rise.

Paul Giuliano today pleaded guilty to misusing his position while he was mayor to get a 5 per cent increase on former chief executive Rasiah Dev’s salary from $315,000 to $330,750 from January 2009, resulting in a total of $34,678 extra pay starting in January 2009.

Variations to chief executives’ contracts must be subject to a formal council resolution.

Broadmeadows Magistrates’ Court heard an independent consultant had recommended that Mr Dev receive a 5.3 per cent pay rise following a favourable performance review by councillors.

Prosecutor Peter Matthews told the court Mr Giuliano discussed the matter with councillors at “at least one meeting” and over the phone, and acting on an assumption councillors had agreed to the pay rise, he asked the human resources manager to authorise the increase.

Defence counsel Jonathan Maher told Magistrate Robert Kumar that in the past 10 years, no chief executive’s pay rise had gone before the council and there was no policy or procedure in place for the process.

The court heard a councillor found guilty of a deliberate misuse of position could receive a $10,000 fine and be disqualified from sitting for seven years.

Mr Matthews said Mr Giuliano’s action was “not a deliberate misuse of his position … more he ought to have known”.

Magistrate Kumar said he was amazed the incident occurred.

“Ratepayers will have concerns about this council,” Magistrate Kumar said.

Magistrate Kumar accepted that council officers did not help Mr Giuliano and there was no system in place.

He ordered Mr Giuliano to pay the court fund $1000 and $5000 in court costs.

He was given a 12-month good behaviour bond.

No conviction was recorded.

Outside court Mr Giuliano told the Moonee Valley Leader he could continue as a councillor because no conviction was recorded.

Mr Dev is now the chief executive at Darebin Council.

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Jack Davies commented:

“As President of Ratepayers Victoria the blatant abuse of the local Government act by Paul Giuliano at the MOONEE Valley council is an example of the protection by the labor party in spite of the local Government act. When the courts start ignoring such breaches of the act and complaints by Ratepayers we are on the verge of treachery. Jack Davis President RPV INC.”

Whistle Blowing on Council

Anyone can exercise the Whistle Blower Act if they have evidence of non-compliance behaviours and activities. Several non compliance reports had already been issued by Ombudsman Victoria:

  1. March 2012 – Conflict of interest, poor governance and
    bullying at the City of Glen Eira Council
  2. Feb 2011- Investigation into allegations of improper conduct by a councillor at the Hume City Council
  3. Apr 2010 – Report of an investigation into Local Government Victoria’s response to the Inspectors of Municipal Administration’s report on the City of Ballarat
  4. Mar 2010 – Whistleblowers Protection Act 2001
    Investigation into the disclosure of information
    by a councillor of the City of Casey 
  5. 2009 – Conflict of Interest and Abuse of Power by a
    Building Inspector at Brimbank City Council
  6. 2009 – Investigation into Corporate Governance
    at Moorabool Shire Council
  7. 2001 – Investigation into the alleged improper conduct of
    councillors at Brimbank City Council;
    Attachment 1 – Brimbank City Council

Despite all the talks and presentations the councillors get on governance, it is still not getting through…..

The Age (23 Oct 2012) reported that:

HELEN Whiteside considers herself a normal sort of person. She’s political, no doubt – a paid-up Liberal Party member. But her time as Glen Eira mayor left her so disillusioned she wonders why an average community member would bother running for council.

With council elections winding up this week, Mrs Whiteside is calling on residents to scrutinise candidates carefully. As for the troubled Glen Eira councillors – some of whom were sacked in 2005 and are standing for re-election – they all deserve to be thrown out, she says.

Glen Eira – which covers suburbs such as Caulfield, Bentleigh and Elsternwick – consistently outperforms other councils on community satisfaction.

But in the past four years the council has faced the Ombudsman’s scrutiny over 10 separate issues, one Ombudsman’s report revealing Councillor Frank Penhalluriack’s alleged bullying behaviour and failure to declare conflicts of interest, and a critical assessment from the local government watchdog, the third since 1998.

Mrs Whiteside, a popular mayor, resigned in 2010. The council suppressed her letter of resignation. She told The Age she resigned because she felt some councillors were not declaring conflicts of interest and were set against chief executive Andrew Newton, wasting at least $30,000 on extra legal advice during the renegotiation of his contract.

Now that every sitting councillor except one is standing for re-election, the former mayor says residents should think carefully. ”Integrity is fundamental to being a councillor,” she says. ”Transparency, accountability and being objective. I believe councillors should make decisions for the long-term best interests of the entire community.

And her former colleagues? ”I don’t think they should be re-elected,” she says.

Mrs Whiteside said she was particularly disturbed about the 2010 decision to relinquish public open space to the Chabad House synagogue extension at 441-496 Inkerman Street, St Kilda East. She alleged Cr Michael Lipshutz had a conflict of interest because of an association with the synagogue’s benefactor, Jewish community leader Joseph Gutnick.

Mr Lipshutz said Mrs Whiteside’s revival of this matter was ”anti-Semitism of the worst kind. She is saying that because I am Jewish I am not fair-minded … I have no association with (Mr Gutnick) whatsoever,” he said. (Greens Cr Neil Pilling also voted to hand over the park.)

Mr Lipshutz said Mrs Whiteside was a ”failed councillor and a hopeless mayor who divided the council”.

Since the last election in 2008, councillors have had several brushes with the state’s integrity agencies and the court system. This year chief executive Mr Newton filed a bullying claim against Cr Penhalluriack. The hardware store owner refused anti-bullying training and is fighting councillor misconduct allegations at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

In a 2010 investigation, Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf found insufficient evidence to prosecute any councillor, but uncovered councillor behaviour ”at odds” with the council’s objectives and ”underlying issues with regard to transparency and accountability”.

When drafting the chief executive’s contract in 2010, councillors inserted a clause requesting he notify them of any inquiries from the state’s integrity agencies. Mr Wolf found the illegal clause existed in an early draft, but no one owned up to putting it there. ”Despite all the talks and presentations the councillors get on governance, it is still not getting through,” a council source told The Age.

The Glen Eira city council elections are this Saturday.