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Friday, 12.15.2017
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4:32 PM
Bad Legislation.

It's disappointing when people don't get on with each other.

That appears to be happening at Manningham Council.

At the 28th June 2016 council meeting a 'Councillor Code of Conduct' document was tabled.

Documents such as these from Manningham Council are often almost filled with statements that are expected and reasonable. There are statements like 'I will act with integrity', 'I will impartially exercise my responsibilities', and so on. Behaviour such as this is what we expect from Councillors and council staff - from people who are in places of responsibility and authority.

To find out what is really going on, I seek out the statements that are NOT expected.

Did you know that our elected councillors do not manage or direct council staff. If our elected councillors require something to be done, their request goes to the Chief Executive Officer. He is basically a senior council staff member who 'ensures that the decisions of the Council are implemented without undue delay' (Code of conduct 6.1 b.)

Essentially the CEO manages council staff and the day to day operations of the council (6.1 c.)

This code of conduct ensures that our elected councillors have a 'hands off' approach with the council staff. The code of conduct appears to require that all interactions with council staff go through the CEO. For example. Every elected Councillor is to agree that:

 

6.2 I also acknowledge that the CEO: ...

c) is responsible for managing interactions between Council staff and Councillors including by ensuring that appropriate policies, practices and protocols are in place defining appropriate arrangements for interaction between Council staff and Councillors. (page 5)

 

 

And there are some very strict regulations that insist that all requests from elected Councillors are not given directly to council staff but go through the CEO. For example:

 

7. Relationship with Council Staff (derived from s76E of the Local Government Act.)

7.1 I will not seek to improperly direct or influence members of Council staff in the exercise of any power or in the performance of any duty or function.

7.2 I acknowledge that there must be mutual respect and understanding between Councillors and Council staff in relation to their respective roles, functions and responsibilities and I will comply with any policies, practices and protocols defining appropriate arrangements for interaction between Council staff and Councillors that are put in place by the CEO.

 

Note that all our elected councillors must agree in writing that they will comply with this code of conduct or otherwise their position as councillor will shortly be declared vacant.

So what does it mean when it says 'improperly direct'.

The same paragraph quoted above in the code of conduct also mentions sexual harassment and bullying. However these things are clearly inappropriate. So what does it mean by 'improper'? Does it mean that improper direction is done with overtones of bullying or harassment? I don't think so.

The Local Government Act expresses it this way:

 

76E Improper direction and improper influence

(2) A Councillor must not direct, or seek to direct, a member of Council staff

(a) in the exercise of a delegated power, or the performance of a delegated duty or function of the Council; or

(b) in the exercise of a power or the performance of a duty or function exercised or performed by the member as an authorised officer under this Act or any other Act; or

(c) in the exercise of a power or the performance of a duty or function the member exercises or performs in an office or position the member holds under another Act; or

(d) in relation to advice provided to the Council or a special committee, including advice in a report to the Council or special committee.

Penalty: 120 penalty units.

 

 

Our elected councillors basically cannot direct any council staff to do anything. And do you see the Penalty units. That is right, there is a fine if they contravene these regulations.

What I find odd about this is that it does not go the other way. There is absolutely no penalties, that I can find, for council or council staff members if the staff do not carry out the wishes of the elected councillors. The only thing that is said is that the CEO must ensure instructions are carried out 'without undue delay'. That's all. Not a mention of penalty anywhere. Now why would that be?

 

When it is all one way like this, I begin to suspect there are other things going on. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Are you aware that due to the support given by the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MMFB) to the ALP at the last state election, the MMFB are going to now be given something they have wanted for a long time - that is control of the Country Fire Authority (CFA). I have known members of the CFA for years and there is a big cultural difference between the MMFB and the CFA. The MMFB is a heavily unionised organisation. The CFA are basically volunteers, often people who are farmers or people who live on the fringes of the urban areas. I find the CFA to be a rather independent group of people who pride themselves in their initiative and other personal qualities. Basically these two organisations do not mix. However, because of the MMFBs strongly supported the ALP at the last state election, it is now payoff time. At the time of writing, as far as I can find out, the ALP have directed state government staff to find ways to integrate the CFA with the MMFB with the MMFB in control of the CFA.

I wonder if a similar thing is going on here with our councils. If you sit in at our council meetings, especially if you sit near the council staff, you will overhear comments they make regarding our elected councillors. From my experience, it is clear that not all is well. There are some very unfortunate attitudes to be found. 

I think that Council workers would, like the MMFB and other unionised government workforces, be big supporters of the ALP. So I wonder if this very one sided legislation is a reward for support given at past elections.

Whatever the reason, whether my suspicion is right or not, I think it a sad thing when a government legislates to build walls between people. This legislation simply reinforces the fact that council staff do not appear to work well with our elected councillors. In private enterprise, organisations work best and most efficiently when such walls and differences are addressed and put to rest. Private enterprise knows not to reward and encourage such things.

What the state government has also done is to open the possibility of numerous and lengthy problems and disputes. Any dispute that a council staff member has about 'improper direction' may now go through lengthy and costly dispute resolution. If you read the code of conduct, you will see that there are 6 pages of dispute resolution procedures in point form (pages 11 to 16). At first the mayor tries to resolve the dispute, then there are internal procedures, then external people are brought in. And on it goes.

This is a bureaucratic nightmare and also a playground for people who easily and quickly take offence for the most superficial and innocent things. Such people and procedures bog down the workings of council and, in particular, add to cost, waste and delays. This is not the right way to run any organisation. Conflicts should be resolved, walls broken down and people urged to work with each other. You certainly do not want to shore up such behaviour with legislation.

If I am right and the state ALP wants to reward it's supporters then it should find other ways and not give in to and promote these baser aspects of human nature.

 

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