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.”