Code of conduct ‘undemocratic’

Picture: Rebecca Hosking 207897_01

By Luke Voogt

A trio of councillors labelled Surf Coast Shire’s new code of conduct “undemocratic” before its adoption on Tuesday night.

Councillors Heather Wellington and Paul Barker voted against the document, with the state government’s deadline for adopting a code of conduct looming next Wednesday.

Lorne councillor Gary Allen criticised the document, but joined the majority of councillors adopting it, on the basis council re-examine the code at a later date.

Cr Allen told council some requirements of the code “border on being undemocratic.”

“They’re just so wide-sweeping and I think it will work out to be an unenforceable document.”

The code requires councillors to notify council and the shire’s chief executive before making “any negative comment” publicly.

“Well, what’s debate about?” Cr Allen said.

“If I think of a point now that’s negative, I’ll raise it in debate. I’m not notifying anyone that I’m going to raise that comment.”

Cr Wellington ridiculed the 24-page code’s “sermon“ of almost 100 examples of desired and undesired behaviours as “highly-subjective” and “largely impossible to enforce”.

“At the core of its problems is its apparent attempt to detail every type of human behaviour imaginable,” she said.

Cr Wellington described spending $10,000 for an external consultant to draft the code as “a waste of public money” and attempted to move several amendments.

But mayor Libby Stapleton said the proposed amendments “significantly altered” the motion before council.

She ruled that Cr Wellington could only introduce them as an alternative motion if council voted down the initial code.

Along with stifling media scrutiny, the code is “contradictory” and “repetitious”, according to Cr Wellington.

The document reflected “very little of her written input” from a day-long council workshop, she added.

Cr Barker said following all the code’s desired behaviours would be “impossible”, resulting in the mayor’s time being wasted on “trivial matters”.

But deputy mayor Liz Patterson said the code aligned the Victorian local government website’s “best-practice examples” and would help council be “cohesive, respectful and effective”.

“Some may say that that is not good enough.

“Really? Really? We should waste ratepayer money trying to refine our code of conduct to something that is better than best-practice?

“Surely we can spend ratepayer money and our time more wisely.”

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