CEO tries to bale on complaints job

BAYSWATER mayor Dan Bull has narrowly avoided getting the unpopular job of handling complaints about fellow councillors.

Council CEOs usually handle complaints about councillor or employee breaches of the Local Government Act, and potentially refer them to higher authorities. 

But freshly minted local government regulations released this month require a complaints officer to handle alleged breaches of in-house codes of conduct, which are considered more minor misdeeds.

It seems Bayswater CEO and current complaints officer Andrew Brien wasn’t keen on policing the code of conduct too.

An administrative report authorised by Mr Brien said it could be seen as inappropriate for CEO’s to investigate the very councillors who hire and fire them.

The handling of complaints by successive Perth council CEOs was one of the tensions explored in the Inquiry into the City of Perth.

Former Perth council CEO Gary Stevenson earned the ire of councillors for carrying out his duty and referring complaints onto higher authorities. He was sacked before his contract was up. 

Bayswater staff suggested an alternative could be to handball complaints to the mayor.

But it got complex: If the mayor was involved in a complaint, his deputy would step in as complaints officer; but if both were involved then a committee would have to be formed. 

Cr Elli Petersen-Pik was firmly against that plan and moved to amend it at the February 23 council meeting. 

“Our ratepayers, as well councillors who are the subject of a complaint, expect complaints to be dealt with by someone who is more neutral and unbiased,” he says.

“The mayor or the deputy mayor are political figures, so it would not be appropriate for them to deal with this type of matters. It could lead to unnecessary tensions between elected members, which will be detrimental to our ongoing aims to be an harmonious and effective Council.

Messy

If Bayswater continues with its system of having a mayor elected by councillors, it’d get even more messy: A mayor might be having to investigate council candidates who’d get to decide whether they keep the mayoral role once elected.

Councillors unanimously supported Cr Petersen-Pik’s motion not to give the mayor the job.

“I understand the concerns raised by the CEO, of him dealing with complaints against councillors, and there is probably merit in authorising a different officer in the city or someone external to deal with this sort of complaints,” he says. 

But they didn’t have a specific name ready to put on paper on the night, so for now the CEO will be complaints officer until they can anoint someone else. 

by DAVID BELL

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