24 February 2012
The Greens today pledged that Greens councillors elected to Newcastle Council in September’s council election will move to put an end to secret talks between elected councillors and staff, such as the closed meetings scheduled for next week.
“These meetings that lock out the public and the media so that councillors and staff can discuss important matters in secret are part of the toxic organisational culture that has made this council so anti-community, anti-democratic and dysfunctional,” The Greens Lord Mayoral and Ward 4 candidate John Sutton said.
“It’s disturbing – but unfortunately typical – that, just one week after committing itself to being “open and transparent” in its new Community Engagement Charter, the council is shutting the public and the media out of discussions between councillors and staff on matters as important as the City Wide Flood Plain Risk Management Study and Plan, the Museum Project, the Art Gallery Redevelopment, the sale of car parking stations, and even the 2015 delivery program and operational plan.
“Things like this shouldn’t be discussed behind closed doors, outside the confidentiality provisions of the Local Government Act . Many members of the public would appreciate hearing what their elected councillors and staff have to say about these major projects.
“Keeping these discussions secret makes people wonder what councillors and staff might be afraid to say in public, or what is being concealed from the community and the media. It builds a barrier between the community and the council, and reinforces community concerns about the unhealthily cosy relationship between councillors and staff that has been behind so many of the problems of the current council.
“If these matters were brought to a council meeting conducted under the Local Government Act it would be illegal for the council to discuss them confidentially,” Mr Sutton said.
Greens Councillor Michael Osborne said that the current council had previously voted down a proposal he had put for such meetings to be open to the public and the media, except in rare cases where confidentiality was justified for a particular matter, under the same conditions as for normal council meetings.
“There’s no reason why these meetings shouldn’t be open to the public and the media,” he said.
“The only thing stopping them from being open is the will of the council.
“It’s an excellent example of how the current council sees the place and role of the community, and of why we need more Greens councillors,” Clr Osborne said.
For further information or comment, contact: John Sutton (Greens Lord Mayoral and Ward 4 candidate for Newcastle) on 0411 154 004 or Clr Michael Osborne (Greens councillor and Newcastle Ward 1 candidate) on 0439 442 984.