Perspectives / RIP Transparency. Hello Secrecy.

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A seemingly orchestrated move by Mayor Kerr to thwart Cr Abigail Noli’s attempt to receive information from the Mayor and CEO at Tuesday’s Douglas Shire Council Ordinary Council meeting was witnessed by up to 100 viewers who logged on through Facebook to watch the live-stream.

Cr Noli lodged two Notices of Motion raising concerns about the future of the Shire’s tourism body, Tourism Port Douglas Daintree (TPDD) and the appointment of a Tourism and Economic Development Officer (TEDO).

With only one month before the expiry of the TPDD / DSC agreement, Cr Noli’s first motion questioned why Councillors were not informed of or allowed to provide input into contract negotiations. The motion requested “future contract arrangements between TPDD and Council become a public and community conversation” providing the opportunity for consultation with key stakeholders, the general public and the tourism industry.

Cr Noli’s motion raised concerns Councillors would not receive enough information about the pending contract before Officers presented a resolution to the next Council meeting. Previously, TPDD/DSC agreements have been for three years. However, with the pending appointment of a TEDO creating potential role crossover, questions have been raised as to whether the TPDD funding will be reduced or possibly terminated, reducing the organisation’s ability to strategically and effectively market the destination.

Cr Noli’s second motion centred around the introduction of the TEDO position, questioning why standard procedure, set by precedent, had not been followed.

Previously, Councillors had time to provide input, consider budget implications and be involved in the introduction of a new or redeveloped role to Council’s administration.

As per procedure, Cr Noli’s two Notices of Motion were supplied two weeks before the meeting on 11 May 2020. At the eleventh hour, a Mayoral Minute was entered first onto the meeting agenda, preceding Cr Noli’s motions. The perceived manipulation of a Council meeting agenda to suit a single Councillor or block of Councillors raised concerns about the setting of a deeply concerning precedent. The addition of a Mayoral Minute effectively bypasses due process and is rarely used by Councils, reserved only for emergencies. The listing of Mayoral Minutes has occurred at both Ordinary Council Meetings under the new Mayor.

During discussions of the Mayoral Minute which sought to approve the implementation of the TEDO position within Council’s structure and express support for the process undertaken by the CEO in the recruitment of the position, Cr Scomazzon commented she was very happy to permit the rushing of the appointment despite a lack of process and transparency. Cr Scomazzon also advised she felt no need to discuss the future of TPDD during discussions about the TEDO role, its relationship with the new position or budget implications.

Later in the meeting, Cr Scomazzon appeared to contradict herself, noting she was happy to allow the “proper procedure to continue”, however, did not volunteer what “proper procedure” entailed.

During TEDO position discussions, Cr McKeown stated, “personally I don’t think there is a better time to employ someone of this calibre”, raising eyebrows as to whether he may have been familiar with the applicants.

CEO Mark Stoermer weighed in on the debate surrounding the TPDD motion stating it was, “inappropriate to discuss details at this stage of the contract negotiations” leaving viewers to question if contract negotiations were proceeding with TPDD without Councillors’ knowledge and participation.
Cr Noli noted that before Tuesday’s meeting, Councillors had not received any correspondence, or confirmation of any change in Council’s commitment to the local tourism organisation or information about the TEDO position. Wrapping up, Cr Noli questioned Mayor Kerr as to why, if he felt her motions to be inappropriate or without merit, he had not chosen to speak with her directly in the past two weeks, instead choosing to challenge her publicly in the meeting and the day prior on local radio.

Questions for our readers:

• Are Mayor Kerr and Council administration using the cloak of COVID-19 to justify a new TEDO role to replace the long-standing TPDD without Councillor, public or industry input?

• Cr Scomazzon’s contradictory views on process begs the question, “When does the new Council consider ‘the proper procedure’ is required, allowed, or requested? And when is it not?

• Is it a failure by Council administration to act fairly and impartially when some Councillors are receiving information and others are not? Does this amount to a breach of Council’s Code of Conduct?

A fundamental requirement under the Local Government Act 2009 Section 170A(2) permits a Councillor to “ask the chief executive officer to provide information, that the local government has access to, relating to the local government.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, CEO Stoermer refused to answer reasonable questions concerning critical local issues. An obligation to act impartially toward all Councillors and provide relevant information without favour is basic CEO 101. A failure to provide requested information is potentially a serious breach and obligation of the position.

Despite promises of increased transparency, the current Council has quite a lot of work to do regarding the inclusive process for critical decision-making.

At the time of publication, Mayor Kerr had not responded to questions.


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