Cr Melky continues campaign for greater transparency

By KIERAN FINNANE 

 

It won’t be for want of trying if Councillor Eli Melky fails to bring more meaningful discussion of council’s finances into the open.

 

At last night’s meeting the same old farce was repeated, with the ‘minutes’ of the ‘open’ section of last month’s Finance Committee being taken as a true and correct record. Yet there were no minutes, as there was no open section.

 

But Council’s Director of Finance Paul Della had made an effort to have something in open for this month’s committee meeting to consider, two reports in fact. One advised councillors about a new online index that tracks the competitiveness of local government regions. No action required.  The other reflected the previously and confidentially majority-endorsed policy to purchase, rather than lease, plant and equipment. This was put as a recommendation for councillors to vote on at the end of the month.

 

But Cr Melky was not to be bought off so easily. He wanted to know why matters listed for the confidential section of last night’s meeting could not be considered in open. We know nothing of these matters other than they were “financial reports”, number 156/13f.

 

CEO Rex Mooney was firm that these matters needed to be first considered in confidential before councillors could decide on bringing them into open.

 

Cr Melky felt Mr Della had not responded to his request from the July 29 meeting, which was to decide generally on categories of financial matters that could be regularly considered in open, in the interests of greater transparency.

 

Cr Brendan Heenan, chair of the Finance Committee, suggested that Cr Melky sit down in private with Mr Della to discuss the issue. But this was precisely what Cr Melky did not want to do. Councillors are “bound” by the Local Government Act to engage in open discussion on behalf of the people, he said. That would not be achieved if he had a private discussion with Mr Della.

 

If Mr Della’s advice to councillors was that nothing could be considered in open, then that would be an answer, added Cr Melky.

 

Cr Booth was the only councillor to support him, if not quite whole-heartedly: “I tend to agree with Cr Melky,” he said.

 

Mayor Damien Ryan sat looking at Cr Melky with a bemused smile, as he tends to whenever Cr Melky takes to the microphone – which he  does a little too often. Some of his interventions are more helpful than others, such as his request for an update on where council is at with its review of open space assets, a subject of keen community interest. (Councillors will be given a draft report at the September forum, was the reply. Forum meetings are not open to the public.)

 

On other occasions it’s overload. For instance, last night traffic management recommendations that had been decided on in the July forum, were brought into open for formal endorsement. The 27 recommendations, some of which councillors have approved and some not, came out of a Traffic Study by consultants Murray F Young and Associates. Instead of focussing on the matter to hand, Cr Melky wanted to discuss other traffic matters which have come to his personal notice, both of them concerning NT Government roads. You could see tempers visibly fraying!

 

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5 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Janet Brown
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 7:31 am

    @ray. Confidentially requirements are written into most workplace agreements. And to inform readers all items moved to confidentiality are done by the CEO of council and his directors. This decision is not made by elected members. Elected members cannot direct council on any decision when it comes to council operation. This can be done via the mayor and CEO. BUT! The issue of the confidential part of council if relates to council operations then council makes those decisions not elected members. One of many issues like the Kilgariff issue elected members can with the mayor direct the CEO to comply to directives that elected members believe will benefit the community.

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  2. Ray
    Posted August 17, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Steve@3. Breaching the Law of confidentiality. Which “Law of Confidentiality” are you referring to, Steve?
    Can you provide the name of the Act / Regulations and the section. Is confidentiality actually a law, or just “the vibe”. Tell him he’s dreamin.

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  3. Paul Parker
    Posted August 14, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    It is possible to discuss many subjects in considerable detail (exclude parts entitled to privacy) using codes to enable bulk of discussion conducted in public without breaching confidentiality.
    To discuss identity and values use randomized one-time-codes for identities (names/locations) (eg Fred=P, Bob=K, Sue=G, “XYZ P/L”=H) and value substitutes (eg A=$121k, B=$127k C=$131k, D=$132k) thus making reasonable efforts to protect identities and values.
    Each does require some self-control of what comes out from their mouth.

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  4. Erwin Chlanda
    Posted August 14, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    @1 Cr Brown and Cr Melky: The Alice Springs News Online has reported extensively on issues relating to “in confidential” discussion during town council meetings. Google the stories on our site. The bottom line is, council meetings are required to be open. Going behind closed doors is against the law unless there is a reason defined in legislation for removing issues from the public gaze. This needs to be justified item by item. It is interesting to hear council candidates pontificating about transparency only to forget their pledges when they are elected. Maybe it is time a ratepayers’ group took the council to court over this, or the Department of Local Government took an interest.

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  5. Steve Brown
    Posted August 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Its rather pointless attempting to discuss a subject on which none of the subjects details can be discussed without breeching the law of Confidentiality! When eventually, hopefully not to far away we do have many of these discussions in Open you will find them to be delightfully boring bookkeeping which I’m not sure will ever rate a mention here.
    Although I am a great believer in transparency it is worth remembering that this is the bookkeeping side of Council’s operation and can at times contain information about its citizens that I am certain they would not like to be made public. So there is a continuing obligation to be very careful with what is released, and hence the need for discussion before anything is released. And yes, that discussion has to take place in confidential so discussing that discussion in open preceding the discussion in confidential is probably just discussion for discussion sake! Don’t you think?

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