Town Council: transparency that’s not transparent

p2127-council-interest-form

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

 

The Alice Springs Town Council’s elected members are split about whether the public should have access to statements by them and their senior staff about “pecuniary and other interests”.

 

 

Some did not know that the disclosures, which the council introduced on January 1, were not public.

 

 

Members the Alice Springs News Online spoke to were aware that Mayor Damien Ryan had outside interests, including membership of chair positions on boards, but were astonished to learn that he was receiving $102,000 in remuneration – slightly more than he is being paid to be Mayor.

 

 

The News this week asked to be given access to the disclosure statement by Mayor Ryan but this was denied by CEO Rex Mooney.

 

 

He said these were internal documents for the benefit only of elected members, the CEO and the three directors, who also had to disclose their interests.

 

 

Cr Liz Martin said she thought the public had access to the statements and that it should have.

 

 

Cr Steve Brown said the disclosures were not intended for the public. They are not a legal requirement, he said.

 

 

Deputy Mayor Kylie Bonnani thought the statements were accessible to public. “You would think they would be,” she said.

 

 

Cr Eli Melky, one of the prime movers for the establishment of the register, said public access to it “was the reason why I supported it. It is pointless otherwise.”

 

 

Cr Chansey Paech said public access should be at the discretion of the CEO, and he would give the matter some further thought.

 

 

Cr Brendan Heenan says the public should have access to the register: “I thought it had access.”

 

 

Cr Dave Douglas said he had no idea whether the register was open to the public, but he would have no problem if it were accessible. “I have nothing to hide as councillor and elected member,” he said. “It [wouldn’t] hurt if it was out there.” He did not know the extent of remuneration Mayor Ryan was receiving but he says Mayor Ryan is “doing a good job” and is the right person to be mayor.

 

 

The News was unable to contact Cr Jade Kudrenko. Mayor Ryan has declined to discuss these issues with the News. If he changes his mind we will be glad to report his comments.

 

 

The register was introduced in the wake of former councillor Geoff Booth’s involvement in a prostitution venture which forced his resignation, resulting in the cost the council of $90,000 to have a by-election conducted.

 

 

The document requires members and senior staff to disclose interests in the past 12 months including “any position” in a trade union or professional association, companies or partnerships, real estate in Alice Springs, trusts and gifts over $500.

 

 

Under the heading “discretionary disclosures” is the following: “Any other substantial interest (whether of a pecuniary nature or not) I or a member of my family of which I am aware and which I consider might appear to raise a material conflict between my private interest and my public duty as a Councillor or, in the case of the Chief Executive Officer or a Director, my professional duty.”

 

 

The decision to set up the register was not made by “a specific motion,” says Mr Mooney, but by discussion. It had “always been the intention [for it] to remain an in-house document”.

 

 

Section 73 of the Local Government Act says “A member has a conflict of interest in a question arising for decision by the council … if the member or an associate of the member has a personal or financial interest in how the question is decided.”

 

Failure to disclose a conflict of interest carries a maximum penalty of 100 penalty units or imprisonment for six months.

 

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