PERTH councillors may finally be able to give their opinions on council matters, with CEO Martin Mileham supporting a push to let them speak their minds.
For at least two years Cr Reece Harley has fought to loosen city guidelines that restrict councillors from speaking to the media, only allowing the lord mayor and CEO to talk to the press.
Under the new leadership of Mr Mileham, city staff have recommended that councillors are allowed to talk to the media if it’s clear it’s their opinion, they’re not purporting to represent the city, and if their comments don’t “reflect adversely” on other councillors.
The proposal has to go to full council for the vote—getting past lord mayor Lisa Scaffidi’s majority faction which previously opposed such changes—but at this week’s committee meeting Cr Harley applauded Mr Mileham on the change in direction, saying the new rules will allow them to communicate better with electors.
Cr Harley noted that the current rules are ignored anyway: “breached time and again by councillors who voted to retain the policy” last year.
Cr James Limnios, who stated last year he would ignore the restrictive rules and continue to speak his mind, said the current situation was silly: “I’d like to congratulate the administration on getting up to speed on what we’re doing as elected members, and that’s representing our constituents”.
Cr Limnios said it was laughable that under the current policy they’d be issued “breach notices on a Monday morning” for speaking up: “Enough’s enough and the silliness has to stop”.
Cr Harley says he’s “received many written and verbal warnings” from other councillors warning him not to speak out, notably when he opposed the council’s generous clothing allowance before the last local government election.
He claims councillors sent him a letter citing the policy and demanding an apology.
“The current policy has been designed to control councillors, and to not allow differences of opinion to be expressed in public,” Cr Harley says.
“It means that the role of a councillor is made more difficult.
“If we vote a particular way, the policy doesn’t allow us to explain the way we vote, so people are left in the dark.
“You can’t call every single resident to explain things, so media is an efficient and effective way to communicate with the constituents.”
Two years ago when he was trying to get the policy changed he was the sole voice on council calling for reform, but now, “the premier, the department [of local government], the CEO…and the majority of the sector are now very much of the view that we should be able to speak to the media”.
City staff confirmed the new policy had been given the thumbs up by the local government department, which said the new rules were in line with local government law.
Cr Janet Davidson—who often votes en bloc with the lord mayor on contentious issues—was the only committee member to vote against the change.
She didn’t explain why, but if the upcoming vote goes along the usual factual lines on controversial motions, then the change may be blocked en masse by Mrs Scaffidi’s allies.
by DAVID BELL