DECISIONS made in secret have skyrocketed at Vincent, with the council tripling the number of times it went behind closed doors in five months.
Till October the average number of secret items was a smidge over one per meeting, but CEO John Giorgi has recently been putting many more on the for-your-eyes-only list.
Mayor John Carey and his councillors are now debating three or more per meeting in their cone of silence: on one night alone a whopping seven items were deemed too risky to be trusted to the ears of the press and public.
Rules apply to what can be made confidential under the WA local government act, most commonly when the item deals with an employee, personal affairs of a person, a contract, legal advice or a trade secret. Depending on the interpretation of the item, the latitude can be pretty wide.
Before he went on leave the Voice questioned Mr Giorgi about which part of the law he was relying on when making several items confidential, including:
• the council’s new redundancy policy;
• transport assistance grants for the elderly and disabled;
• employing new ‘placemakers’ and ‘place managers’ (fancy names for people who jazz up town centres);
• a review of the amount spent on festivals.
Mr Giorgi refused to answer, simply stating “there is nothing untoward in the matter, however I will not be providing any comments”.
Shortly after that he learned he wasn’t getting his contract renewed at the end of the year and he has rarely been back to work since.
Deputy mayor Ros Harley recently told colleagues she was “concern[ed] about the overuse of the confidential list”: “I think the use of confidential agendas should be limited,” she said.
That night she moved that two items—a debate over a public art contract, the other about transport grants to the elderly and disabled—be heard in public, and her colleagues unanimously agreed.
In November, councillors Matt Buckels, Josh Topelberg and Julia Wilcox wanted an item about Beatty Park’s new logo to be heard publicly but they were outvoted.
Mayor John Carey says the CEO decides what is to be listed for confidentiality, and councillors can dispute it on the night.
He says the festival expenditure item should have been heard publicly, and he’ll be keeping a close eye on any future items the CEO wants kept from public scrutiny.
“We’ll be looking carefully at any recommendations and where we think it should be public, we’ll move it to public,” he told the Voice.
“Where I think [the confidential section] is appropriate is where it’s dealing with employment matters, for example creating new roles or shifting positions or making positions redundant. Clearly they’re sensitive matters.”
by DAVID BELL