Are Councillors not allowed to view crucial contracts or tenders before voting?

An interesting discussion about what information has been made to Councillors in regards to proposals that are massive infrastructure project has been occurring via local social media sites over the past 48 hours.

By The Editor

In a Coffs Coast Independent News (CCIN) Facebook discussion thread Cr Tegan Swan was asked; “have Councillors read copies of the contracts that have been drawn up between Council and the architect BVN Architects and Lipman Constructions ?

As I have read your extensive analyses, I would have thought that the contracts that Councillors have voted on to accept would have been made available for their scrutiny and assessment?”

The reply

This is the reply from Cr Swan;

We don’t ever get to see the contracts or actual tenders.

It was only after a lot of requests we got to see the majority of the airport documents.

I can understand the rationale behind not always giving us everything as it is an overwhelming amount of information and we do have council staff and outside consultants who provide summaries and reports for us.

I personally believe though that we need to have access to it all along with the summaries and reports. If we read them and feel comfortable with that… happy days but if we want to understand or look further at something then we should be able to access all of the associated documents.

In reality it all comes back on us in the end if it goes wrong.

I don’t ever feel comfortable approving things I haven’t seen fully but previously I’ve just accepted that’s the way it’s done. I’m now questioning that more and more.

Unfortunately I was informed in no uncertain terms on Thursday night that my questioning and introducing outside information was undermining council and questioning staff professionalism. (CCO emphasis added)

This was devastating to me as I am only trying to do my job to the best of my ability with all available information I can find and compare. Originally I thought it was maybe a bit of an ego or culture thing but with the anomalies I’ve found even more of over the weekend I’m concerned it’s something bigger than that now.

I feel sick about it all really.

I think it’s definitely time for some changes and I’m just going to have to live with the resistance and push back I get when I have tried previously to suggest different ways. It’s frustrating because I’m made to feel like I don’t know what I’m talking about or I’m being unreasonable. It’s on me though for believing that to be true even when it doesn’t feel right to me.”

Comment/opinion

Here we see the mind set and culture of our paid employees, the senior Council Executive, laid bare.

Five Excuses That Kill Accountability - Executive Secretary
Is this what our senior council executive want us to think about them?

Namely a culture and mind-set that appears to be secretive, bordering on paranoid and is afraid of accountability. All of which appear from the alleged comment above to be aligned to what can only reasonably be seen as a form of bullying.

The following comments from the same CCIN Facebook thread pick up on this;

Rob Trezise: “This is an intolerable state of affairs for you or any other Councillor to be put in. At times it must seem as if you are only there to rubber stamp whatever the Executive puts in front of you. And if you baulk, you run the risk of a citation for a breach of the Code of Conduct. As an elected Councillor chosen by the community to represent the community’s interests you should not have to be subject to such treatment by what amounts to a Council employee, unelected who has inside knowledge to matters that Councillors don’t. It would appear on the surface to us it is a case of the “tail wagging the dog”

Gabrielle Brabander: “Tegan Swan seems to me you are simply following due diligence with regards your commitment to community. This is not about trying to undermine anyone, it is about a massive infrastructure project that has generated significant debate and public interest. Information is empowering not something to fear. Keep asking the questions.”

Martin Pundyk: “Tegan Swan please never doubt yourself in this. This is exactly what you have been elected to do. ….represent the Ratepayers. The dressing down you apparently received is bullying pure and simple. We are all impressed and grateful for your personal application and research on this as it mirrors what has been going on in the community but unlike you we have little influence on things. You have the communities’ support. Stand strong.”

Peter Watt: “Tegan Swan you are right to question and query information it is your responsibility. If that means you are testing the staff professionalism then so be it. They are not the ones who ultimately are held responsible. Good work Tegan.”

The accusation allegedly made to Cr Swan that “questioning and introducing outside information was undermining council and questioning staff professionalism” is both absurd and arguably is a form of bullying.

Heads of Government Departments and their senior advisers at both Federal and State level are regularly called upon to front up to Senate and Upper House Estimates Committees where they can expect to be rigorously questioned for sometimes half a working day or more at a time.

Yet apparently our highly paid senior council executives, some of whom are on $200k upwards per annum, are not capable of handling some new information and issues raised by an elected representative at a Council meeting? Really! So why are they getting paid the big bucks then?

As I commented myself on the thread; “Poor things. I wonder how they would go as witnesses in cross examination in court?”

As President Harry S Truman once said; “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”.

This endless need to hide mountains of information behind “commercial in confidence” and similar obscures whether broad managerial best practice such as scenario building, SWOT analysis and in depth due diligence has been done by those who have a fiduciary duty to manage the ratepayers money.

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear  and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie..." -Julian Assange  [1600x900][OC] : QuotesPorn

Here is why questions need to be asked and new information considered

A recent example we highlighted was the calculations used and presented to Councillors to analyse the cost of interest on loans for the proposed CCS in Gordon Street.

We understand the analysis may have been done solely on the basis that TCorp would loan to the CHCC for the whole building at 2.36% for 30 years.

We argued such a scenario appeared very optimistic given interest rate trends over the previous 30 years. See; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/can-councils-ccs-interest-rate-estimate-be-believed/

And lo and behold look what was reported ton he very same day we were writing our article;

Financial markets are challenging the Reserve Bank of Australia’s interest rate guidance, pricing in the first post-COVID-19 rate rise late next year – about two years ahead of the RBA’s expectations.

The roll out of vaccines, high mining commodity prices and a more than $2 trillion spending stimulus planned by US President Joe Biden are fuelling more optimistic economic sentiment.”

See the full story at The Australian Financial Review here; https://www.afr.com/policy/economy/interest-rate-rise-bets-for-2022-spook-market-20210223-p574zo

This is why assumptions must be questioned, new information considered and questions asked. Not to do so would be failing one’s duty to ratepayers.

Cr Swan 1 – CHCC Executive 0

6 thoughts on “Are Councillors not allowed to view crucial contracts or tenders before voting?

  1. To Councillor Tegan Swan: Document your experience. Write down instances of your requests for information, especially where those requests have been denied if so. Consider these, then, for referral to ICAC. Remember at all times: you are wholly within your rights to take that action. It may be the best thing you can do for the LGA going forward. In the very least, keep this in mind.

    1. I agree. Keep asking Tegan, and if info is not forthcoming, definitely diarise it. AND OTHER COUNCILLORS , STARTING DEMANDING ANSWERS
      I have been assuming, for quite sometime, that our elected Councillors do not know what has been and is still going on, but not for too much longer hopefully. The salaries that these exec. council staff are receiving – don’t forget paid for by Coffs ratepayers – gives us every right to discuss anything relevant to running our city.

  2. Absolutely right. Document all instances where information crucial to your decision-making has been denied by council executive, including instances of alleged bullying and forward to Minister for Local Government and the NSW Premier initially, keeping a copy of correspondence for possible future ICAC referral.

    Bullies use fear to disempower and control. In Tegan’s case, council’s code of conduct is being used as a weapon against her for having the audacity to ask highly relevant questions on behalf of her constituents.

    Tegan’s account just shows how out-of-control things are at Coffs Harbour City Council and it is high time the Office of Local Government stepped in. Over to you Gurmesh!

    And Ed…one senior council executive receives upwards of $330,000 plus perks for running this town. That is substantially more than the Premier of NSW is remunerated for running the whole state, which is ludicrous.

  3. Hi Tegan

    Knowing very little about how it works, I nevertheless offer the following in case it is of assistance in relation to the motion, on the issue of failure to circulate the relevant document to councillors etc.

    Imagine a company director goes to his/her lawyer to sign a one-off, unusual, contract for the purchase of a multi-million dollar property, the costs of which will be borrowed. On arrival, i’ts cost is blacked out with only a space for signing.

    Client; “Can I read it first and have a copy?”
    Lawyer; “Absolutely not, you wouldn’t understand it anyway, and you pay me to read it. Besides, its an insult to me to suggest I would give you something to sign which wasn’t a really good thing for the company. I feel really hurt by this”.
    Client; Oh, OK, I didn’t mean to be so rude. Can I have a copy to read after and discuss with my fellow directors and answer questions from the shareholders?”
    Lawyer; “Are you not listening. Of course not, its confidential to me and the vendor, you really are pushing my buttons. Do you want me to bombard you with every document which comes over my desk?”
    Client; ”I’m really sorry. I guess I’ll just have to go to someone who has a basic understanding of professionalism, morality and ethics.”

    I cant’ see the difference here with what is happening to you and our other elected representaives actually.

    The statutory basis for the relationship between the General Manager and the Mayor is set out in s.226 of the LGA.
    Sub section (J) says the role is “to advise, consult with and provide strategic direction to the general manager in relation to the implementation of the strategic plans and policies of the council”.

    Note, it is not the reverse, ie; the General Manager does not direct the Mayor nor provide the strategic direction.

    The statutory basis for the Councillors’ roles is in s232(1) (b) says; “To make considered and well informed decisions as a member of the governing body”.

    How could you make an informed decision, let alone a well informed one, with no documentary access?

    Also;(e) “To facilitate communication between the local community and the governing body”, something which seems to me to be lacking by some other Councillors. Not yourself!

    I hope this might be of some use.

  4. By no means exhaustive, and not including any personal and undisclosed difficulties Clr Swan may have had in obtaining information to which she is entitled, the following occurred from recollection:

    1) Clr Swan introduced new information into the meeting, raising a possible illegality regarding the contract, asking simply if the General Manager knew of it. She cited the reference.

    2) The General Manager, after some questioning, finally admitted he did not.

    3) Some discussion followed, then the General Manager sounded as though he’d found the reference Clr Swan cited. He interrupted the meeting for the following:

    4) The General Manager read the title out loud. From that he deduced an over-arching principle by which the content, he stated, would be coloured by. “It should be read in the light of the title,” he said, I think, pretty close to if not word for word. He enlarged on that with something like: “From the title you can draw a conclusion.”

    In other words, without looking into the actual content, the General Manager gave his opinion so as to dismiss the cited reference based on the title alone. A reference, to repeat, which raised a possibile illegality.

    Who can possibly claim this is good management?

    Clr Swan attempted to persist in getting the matter clarified. No doubt she felt intimidated, as this was evident in her speaking. Again, who can claim this is good management: for a councillor to feel intimidated on such a critical point, a point that carried the impramatur of the State Member? Whether that is appropriate is not the point right here. What is appropriate is that the substance of the General Manager’s response needs to be acknowledged and questioned as to its fitness, along with the obvious culture that led to a councillor feeling intimidated. This is a culture that has gripped chambers for a long time now and comes to the fore most severely when discussing expensive, very long term matters. It is as though [and rather more that it is] the vote is so pre-decided that discussion is at best a nuisance.

    Further to that, Clr Townley attempted to drive the whole discussion into closing it down, relying solely on advice received by Council lawyers (lawyer?) with no consideration whatsoever for any consequences that may arise should the illegality be valid, and no consideration whatsoever for the matter itself. She was not alone. None – not one – of the other councillors who wanted the vote over and done with, officially engaging the contract, gave a toss.

    So where is Council at? Is this a healthy, well-functioning local government?

    All of this crap that envelops the place! Wouldn’t the best thing to have happened, apart from stripping the place of that clearly apparent vile culture, would be for the General Manager to accept the concerns of a councillor, not dismiss it solely on the title of the reference, show his faith in a councillor having researched the issue on the table, treated the whole process with respect, and declared the fitting thing to do is to obtain more information and clear it up one way or another?

    But no. I think it was Clr Amos who, again, raised his serious concerns about a possible illegality, finally putting his foot down and suggesting that a break occur so they can see if they clarify it. Some managerial skills there.

    So with breath held in waiting, to see if this whole contract issue is an illegality (no less), the meeting recommenced. For what? Did the public get a clear statement declaring the contract matters legal or illegal? Nope. We got Clr Cecato interjecting with a somewhat nasty question, I felt, not about the legality or illegality, but about a phone call during the break, a phone call which clearly was an attempt to obtain further helpful information. That was it. Clr Knight answered in what I felt was also a rather nasty manner.

    The inflection once again was that the vote is already declared, discussion meaningless no matter what it contains, and the discussion is a major nuisance. We still don’t know if it’s legal or not. Thank you, Council. Terrific.

    Steve McGrath, what is going on? What has happened to that place? The above scenario is but one occasion of a suite of them, and this one occasion alone shunts this council out of the light into the murky mudded irk – signalling no louder than if it shouted it itself that this is a council in distress. This is the proven stuff that goes before a fall.

    If you’re starting to feel you’re starting to get some heat, Steve McGrath, and it’s not pleasant – there are reasons for it.

  5. Thank you Councillor Swan for discharging your responsibility to question on our behalf. As one of our representatives you are empowered to act for us, and no public servant has the right to rebuke you for doing so! The people gave you authority at the ballot box. As an elected Councillor you are the authority to be served by the executive – not the reverse!

    The responsibility for the integrity of resolutions passed rests heavily on Councillors – not the executive. For the executive this serves as both sword and shield – they are empowered to act, yet protected by the elected Councillors’ responsibility. Potentially, an army of academics employed in the ‘servant role’, can be capable of psychologically intimidating those elected to govern. Such circumstances cannot be permitted to exist – “the tail wagging the dog”!

    The chain-of-command belongs to our elected representatives , which empowers Council to manage such situations. Until such time as our Council has the full compliment of nine, this democratic process is totally compromised.

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