Canning falling on $1.6m inquiry sword?

CanningAccountability image Downloading Future

If what I’ve heard is true, it hasn’t taken long for the City of Canning to demonstrate a return to behaviours the final $1.6m Inquiry recommended against.

At bottom:  What the Premier’s office responded with when advised of this.

So what critical problems seem to be continuing at Canning?

Firstly, once again some councillors are not turning up for important briefing sessions, or ensuring they access this info at the same time as the rest of the Council.  Apparently this has gone on for months – democratic governance has only been back for nine.

Who are the rumoured absentees?  The entire representation of one of Canning’s wards, Mason, being Ayse Martli and Jesse Jacobs (son of Liberal Graham Jacobs, and a man who may want your vote for parliament in the not too distant future).

Why is this info important to know, and as early as possible?

Take a look at the table below – it details the attendance records of Canning Councillors at key meetings in the year before the former Council was suspended:CanningAccountability image Councillor Attendances 2011_2012

Attendances in some cases had become diabolical, but like anything else had a starting point and now apparently its starting again.

There are less of these “forums” today, but their original purpose, why so many were called and the consequences of falling attendance rates* was not lost on Barrister Dr Christopher Kendall, the Barnett Govt’s choice of Inquirer.

For some time there’d been the feeling the former Council had become dispassionate and non-consultative.  For their part, some councillors felt they weren’t being told everything they needed to know and so decision-making became difficult and drawn out.

Council “forums”, as they were previously known, were sessions either instigated by staff or requested by Council to provide more info before motions were passed. These were advertised and largely open to the public.  A loose form of minutes were kept (which didn’t impress the Inquiry*).

Perceived lack of information, difficulty recollecting what had been advised, inadequate records kept and poor attendance at info sessions came back to haunt former councillors and the administration.

A version of forums exists today, in the form of “Agenda Briefing Sessions”, which are largely open to the public and may or may not contain the substance of presentations made on the night.  It’s not much of an info session in that respect (to those not attending, or as an official record), nor is it helpful the public can’t ask Qs after presentations are made, or councillors have asked their Qs – as they could do at the original forums.

The new Strategic Issues Briefings, however, are supposedly hush, hush, big deal, sensitive stuff, with political implications etc.  No public allowed! 

Despite the Inquirer’s recommendations to the contrary** there are no minutes kept of this highest level of info transfer to Council, let along detailed ones.

Why?  Well apparently the executive at Canning view this sort of thing as “informal”.

Here is what came through the Premier’s office, on hearing this news in November 2015:-

it appears on our initial assessment that Ms Ryan is correct in saying that the City is not meeting the intent of Dr Kendall’s recommendations. It is quite a complicated issue however and probably warrants further discussion with the City

Ah come on – it’s not that complicated!  We’ve either embraced the Inquirer’s common sense suggestions to avoid information slippage or we haven’t.

Clearly Strategic Issue Briefings (SIBs) amount to professional advice and explanations provided to Council, not a cup o’tea, biscuit and a gossip session (but don’t quote me kind-of-thing).  Our councillors must surely be assimilating that illumination in to their voting decisions on either imminent issues or in a global sense when setting strategic direction, agreeing to budgets,etc  – decisions once made the Council must accept ultimate responsibility for.

Wouldn’t YOU want such professional advice, the Qs asked and the A’s given to be itemised for future reference?

So the second concerning problem still present at Canning is that staff don’t seem to have accepted recommendations 4, 5 and 6 of the $1.6m Inquiry and ensured that all briefings are properly minuted…. something Dr Kendall felt so strongly about he even suggested the sessions be taped, either audibly or via video, so that missing councillors or staff are assured of being provided exactly the same info as everyone else.

So why is prob number two still happening?  It’s hard to follow, let alone understand, but here goes:-

  1. Staff got Commissioners to endorse a new framework and scheduling of meetings, now to include Agenda and SIBs, at their last full meeting at Canning – but left asking for endorsement that no minutes be kept of the latter until the first fully articulated meeting of the newly elected Council – more or less the next fully articulated meeting in the schedule.
  2. At that point, in what I’m told was an “exceptional” move, Director of Corporate Services, Garry Adams, was listed on the motion as both the “reporting officer” and the “responsible officer”  (normally an officer would be the former, an executive the latter).
  3. The motion asked the new, very green Council to endorse a [reiteration] that Minutes did not have to be kept of SIBs, but otherwise suggested very minor changes to Elected Member Briefings policy CM105***.
  4. The motion referred to consecutive changes to CM105 from 2013, but in 2014 another version of the policy appeared which prescribed two different types of info sessions (Agenda Forums, held before a Council Meeting, somewhat open to the public, minutes must be kept, and Concept Forums, which were to “discuss and develop philosophies, strategies, concepts and policies in areas of planning, governance and management…. no public permitted…. the CEO is authorised to determine to what extent and in what manner notes are to be kept, except that as a minimum……On request notes are to be made available to Members and members of the public”).  Great!  Sounded like a precursor to the SIBs of today, and in keeping with Inquirer Kendall’s intentions, issued two months later.
  5. But then, just before a democratically elected Council was returned, the meetings/briefings were changed again, and then as the new Council sat they were asked to agree to “Reiterating that briefings are informal and no minutes are required to be kept”.

Just like that.

If the City were to respond, no doubt they would say SIBs were informal because they just keep Council appraised of situations, but a strategic issue is a strategic issue, and there’s simply no reason why what is discussed, for whatever reason, could not follow Dr Kendall’s strong recommendations to ensure all parties had the same information…..  and if this level of record keeping were to be in place, at some future point, the Council won’t need to say “we weren’t told this’n’that” as the administration will be able to furnish exactly what was said.

As for new councillor attendance records, the below is still the only item on the City’s website available:

CanningAccountability image Councillor Attendance City website

*Panel of Inquiry in to City of Canning 2014.  Extract: “For differing reasons, some Councillors did not attend Council Forums. This situation reflects poorly on the Council on many levels. Those Councillors who chose not to attend risked being unaware of the information presented, particularly in light of the often brief Minutes kept of Council Forums”, Conclusions, 15.77, Ch 15: Governance, pg 319

**Panel of Inquiry in to City of Canning 2014:  Recommendations 4, 5 and 6, Ch 17: Findings and Recommendations, commencing pg 364

***City of Canning Agenda, Ordinary Council Meeting of 17 November 2015 (with attachments)
CR-058-15 Elected Members’ Briefings 17.11.2015

****City of Canning Agenda, Ordinary Council Meeting of 15 April 2014 (with attachments)
CR-017-14 Review of Policies CM103 Members Use of Civic Centre, CM104 Members – Attendance at Conference and Courses CM105 Members – Conduct of Council Forums 15.04.2014  

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