January 27, 2021

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Politics / Understanding the Mayoral Minute

6 min read
The process of Council meetings can be overwhelming at times, particularly given the substantial amount of legislation governing them. Today we break down the Mayoral Minute and how it differs from a Notice of Motion put forward by a Councillor, and motions relating to general business. In doing so, the analysis questions whether in certain circumstances, Mayoral Minutes circumvent the democratic process, and asks readers to consider if the new Mayor of Douglas Shire has broken his key election promise of public consultation, transparency, and openness.

NATALIE JOHNSON


The process of Council meetings can be overwhelming at times, particularly given the substantial amount of legislation governing them. Today we break down the Mayoral Minute and how it differs from a Notice of Motion put forward by a Councillor, and motions relating to general business. In doing so, the analysis questions whether in certain circumstances, Mayoral Minutes circumvent the democratic process, and asks readers to consider if the new Mayor of Douglas Shire has broken his key election promise of public consultation, transparency, and openness.


The Douglas Shire Council operates meetings under the framework of ‘Standing Orders for CouncilMeetings General Policy’ which outlines Standing Orders, Procedures for Meetings of Council, Motions, Questions, Maintenance of Good Order, Questions, Attendance and Non-Attendance.  Council Meetings are chaired by the Mayor, and should the Mayor be absent; the Deputy Mayor will chair the meeting in their place.
Unless otherwise altered, the order of business for an Ordinary Council Meeting is as follows: 

+ Attendances
+ Apologies and granting leaves of absence
+ Notice of Conflict of Interest and/or Material Personal Interest
+ Mayoral Minutes
+ Confirmation of Minutes
+ Agenda Items as listed
+ Notice of Motion
+ Urgent Business
+ Petitions
+ Consideration of any closed session items
+ Consideration of recommendations arising from discussions in a closed session


The list of agenda items is made available to Councillors and the public at least two days prior to the day of the meeting. The only item which does not have to be made public, is a Mayoral Minute.

Agendas typically contain:
+ Notice of meeting
+ Minutes of the previous meetings
+ Business arising out of previous meetings 
+ Business which the Mayor wishes to have considered at that meeting without notice
+ Matters of which notice has been given
+ Officer reports to Council referred to the meeting by the CEO 
+ Deputations and delegations
+ Any other business Council determines by resolution be included in the agenda


Other than a Mayoral Minute, any business not listed on the agenda or reasonably arising from items on the agenda, will not be considered at the meeting.
Mayoral Minutes direct the attention of the Council to matters or subjects within the jurisdiction of the Council or of which the Council has official knowledge. Mayoral Minutes override all business on the agenda for the meeting and can be introduced at any time, although generally Mayoral Minutes are dealt with at the beginning of meetings.
The subject of Mayoral Minutes does not have to be listed on the agenda; however, the CEO must be made aware of the Mayoral Minute before the meeting. 
A Councillor will submit a Notice of Motion for inclusion in the agenda and is required to advise the CEO ten calendar days before the day of the next Ordinary Council meeting. The Notice of Motion includes the topic to be discussed and a proposed resolution.

The CEO must make every attempt to list the Notice of Motion on the agenda for the next available meeting. Notices of Motion give Councillors time to research the motion before the meeting. Furthermore, Notices of Motion must be moved and seconded to begin discussions on the motion before the Council cast a vote.
General business agenda items are also pre-listed on the Ordinary Meeting Agenda, require a mover, seconder and are accompanied by Council Officer Reports and/or recommendations for resolution.


Mayoral Minutes do not require listing on the agenda, do not require a seconder, and are voted upon immediately. Unlike agenda items, Mayoral Minutes do not have to be accompanied by Council Officer reports or recommendations, therefore mainly catching Councillors by surprise, making Mayoral Minutes a powerful and potent tool. The Mayor will give reasons to Councillors as to why the Minute should be adopted. Councillors can respond with arguments; however, after discussions, all Councillors must vote.


DouglasNews.Network has broken down the Far North Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils (FNQROC) frequency of Mayoral Minutes and analysed whether the Mayoral Minutes had a financially significant impact.


Graph 1 is data sourced from the 14 months between 01 January 2019 and 31 March 2020


[Wujul Wujul, Aboriginal Shire Council data, was only available from August 2019 – March
2020]

Of the nine Mayoral Minutes listed in Douglas Shire, six were not financially significant:

  1. 1. Reschedule a meeting date
  2. 2. Councillor Kerr to participate by teleconference
  3. 3. Councillor Carey to participate by teleconference
  4. 4. Councillor Carey requiring a leave of absence
  5. 5. Recognition of service for Council employees
  6. 6. Receipt of a public petition.

Three Douglas Shire Mayoral Minutes were financially significant:

  1. Allocation of $20,000 and $1200 in kind to the Mossman and District Show Association from the approved Community Development Budget – carried unanimously
  2. Allocation of an additional $7000 and $2500 of in-kind support to the Port Shorts Film Festival over and above budgeted Community Development funds – carried unanimously
  3. Redirection of budgeted funds allocated from an ‘Off Lead Dog Park’ in Port Douglas, to decorative street lighting in Macrossan Street – carried 4 to 1 (Cr Kerr against)
  1. Further analysis of the three Mayoral Minutes above suggests the proposals were not contentious.
    The one financially significant Mayoral Minute from Croydon Shire was approved to cover costs of extending the contract of the current CEO.

  2. Non financially significant Mayoral Minutes from other FNQROC’s included:

  3. + Disciplinary action of staff
    + Letters of recognition for Council Service
    + Media training for Councillors
    + Councillor leave of absence
    + Letter of recognition for the celebration of a 100th birthday
    + Erection of flood signage in the wet season
    + Acceptance of standing committees
    + Rendering the cannon in Cooktown inoperable
    + Letters of appreciation to State and Federal Governments for grant funding
    + Creation of additional Council divisions
    + Comprehensive reviews of all processes and provision of reports to Councillors

  4. Graph 2 is data sourced from the two months between 01 April 2020 and 15 June 2020

Of the five Mayoral Minutes for Douglas Shire, one was not financially significant:

  • 1. Consider the amount of $1055.34 be deducted from the water bill of the Mossman RSL due to a water leak – carried unanimously 

  • Four Douglas Shire Mayoral Minutes were financially significant:
  • 1. Temporary suspension of contract negotiations for the Daintree Ferry to explore the option of a bridge, investigate costs of currently negotiated two ferry solution contract. The
    decision also potentially impacts services post the expiry of the current ferry contract on 30 June 2021 – carried 3/2 (Cr’s Noli and Zammataro against)
  • 2. Allocate $5000 from the Community Development 19/20 budget to investigate the feasibility of Council purchasing the Oaks Resort pool and gym in Port Douglas. The purchase of the facility is estimated to be approximately $1 million – carried 3/2 (Cr’s Noli and Zammataro against)
  • 3. Expression of support for the Daintree Micro Grid project. Supporting the project through the potential allotment of public land reduces revenue opportunities for the Shire as a whole, and possibly threatens the World Heritage listing causing a potential flow-on effect to tourism – carried 4/1 (Cr Zammataro against)
  • 4. Implementation of a Tourism and Economic Development Officer before budget negotiations, discussions with Councillors or the tabling of the Economic Development Review Committee originally scheduled for June 2020 – carried 3/2 (Cr’s Noli and Zammataro against)

  • Given three of the four motions were carried only by the ‘for’ vote of the Mayor suggests these motions deserved more research, consideration and given their high financial significance – public consultation.

  • The question as to whether a Mayoral Minute circumvents the democratic process is arguable from both sides. Some will argue the Mayor has been elected to do a job and should be given additional scope to do it. Others will argue five councillors have been chosen by the community to represent them, and all have an equal vote; therefore, the democratic process should not be circumvented when the motion concerns financially significant proposals.

Whatever your thoughts on the democratic process of financially significant Mayoral Minutes, ultimately Mayor Kerr, does have a right, like all Mayors of the FNQROC, to use the privilege of Mayoral Minutes as part of his role. However, as demonstrated in the graph analysis, the use of this great privilege may be considered by some as misusing an authoritative mechanism to circumvent process while sweeping the key election platforms of public consultation, transparency and openness under the rug.


REFERENCES
(1) https://douglas.qld.gov.au/download/policies/Standing-Orders-For-Council-Meetings-General-Policy.pdf
(2) https://douglas.qld.gov.au/download/council_meetings/meeting_agendas/5.4-Adoption-of-Updated-Policy-Standing-Orders-for-Council-Meetings.pdf



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