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BVSRRA correspondence made public

Monday 25 May 2015

Bega Valley Shire Council has revealed that in the period from September 2012 to the end of April 2015, staff had received and dealt with 209 pieces of correspondence from the Bega Valley Shire Residents and Ratepayers Association.

That number included 18 formal Government Information Public (GIPA) applications from BVSRRA secretary John Richardson on behalf of the organisation.

The information was tabled at a Council meeting in response to a request from Cr Kristy McBain for a report on the volume of correspondence from the organisation and its impact on Council time and operations.

The breakdown of the figures showed that there were two items in 2012, 53 items in 2013, 116 in 2014 and 36 from 1 January to 30 April 2015.

In her report to Councillors, General Manager Leanne Barnes said that in 2013, the BVSRRA had lodged a Code of Conduct complaint against the then General Manager relating to the manner in which Council responded to correspondence.

No breach of the Code was found and the report from the Independent Reviewer had recommended that structured, minuted meetings could be a mechanism to achieve a good level of communication between the Council and the BVSRRA.

The Mayor had discussed with the BVSRRA the implementation of a regular meeting program but this was not accepted by the BVSRRA.

However, in early 2014 the General Manager and Mayor had implemented quarterly meetings on the budget review outcomes which have been attended by the BVSRRA president on all occasions and the secretary on all but one occasion.

These meetings have been held every quarter since introduction and continue.

On 2 December 2014 the Mayor and General Manager wrote again to the BVSRRA offering to set up similar meetings as those used for the quarterly budget reviews with an agenda developed from items raised by the BVSRRA following the Association meeting with its members to determine the items to be discussed.

Staff and Councillors would attend and issues would be dealt with as fully as possible so that follow up questions could be dealt with on the spot.

Any further information could then be provided. This model was aimed at ensuring full opportunity to provide detailed responses to the BVSRRA which could then be provided to all members.

The BVSRRA had declined the proposal put by the Mayor.

In August 2014 the BVSRRA had contacted the NSW Ombudsman and in December 2014 had lodged a complaint with the NSW Ombudsman relating to Bega Valley Shire Council and release of information and management of matters relating to the Merimbula Mobil site.

Mayor, Michael Britten said the initial investigation stated that “evidence did not support your belief that council was not willing to respond to your enquiries in any meaningful way”.

The BVSRRA had requested a review of the decision and this was upheld. Council was provided a copy of the response to the BVSRRA from the NSW Deputy Ombudsman.

In the letter to the BVSRRA from the Deputy Ombudsman dated 17 April 2015, the matter of Council’s letter to the BVSRRA of 2 December 2014 was discussed and the Deputy Ombudsman notes “I consider that the process suggested in this letter, which involved council meeting with your group in the week following BVSRRA meetings to discuss items of concern that had been tabled and voted on by your members, was a reasonable one. I do not accept your view that it was “entirely improper” and represented an attempt ‘to unreasonably interfere in the administrative workings of the BVSRRA’”.

The Mayor said the options recommended in 2013 and then in 2014 for regular meetings with representatives of the BVSRRA management committee following a meeting of the BVSRRA membership seemed to have merit.

“The meetings would be able to address items provided on notice listed on an agenda with an opportunity to raise other issues which could be responded to or be followed up,” he said.

“These would have been minuted and all information provided within two weeks of the meeting would have been placed for public viewing on the BVSRRA and Council websites.

“The minutes of the meeting and the topics covered could then be formally reported to Council.

“This model provides an opportunity to respond fully to any subsequent questions that may arise during discussion on a particular matter rather than having to respond to a second letter on a matter resulting from information provided in an initial response.

“Having key staff available would allow for immediate response in most instances. The opportunity for the BVSRRA to provide input and for Council and staff to hear new views and alternative ideas would add to the quality of solutions and projects,” Cr Britten said.

Councillors resolved to confirm and adopt the Ombudsman’s acceptance of process by continuing with quarterly meetings as required.

They also resolved that the report on correspondence from the BVSRRA be made public.

The resolution is as follows:

Correspondence Bega Valley Shire Residents and Ratepayers Association

RESOLVED on the motion of Crs Seckold and Britten

1. That council confirms and adopts the process detailed in the Mayor’s letter of 2/12/14 , accepted as reasonable by the Ombudsman on 17/4/15 and will continue with quarterly meetings as required.

2. That the confidential memorandum of information provided to councillors be made public.

In favour:  Crs Britten, Tapscott, Seckold, Mawhinney, Allen and Fitzpatrick

Against: Cr Hughes

Absent: Crs Taylor and McBain

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