Monthly Archives: September 2018

What does the mayor do?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

At election times you’ll hear some mayoral candidates making sweeping statements about what they’ll change. It might make you feel cynical, and rightly so, if you understand what a mayor does.

How much power does a mayor actually have? If things are working properly, then not all that much. If you read the papers, or listen to some mayoral candidates, you’d think that a mayor can dictate the direction of council. They can’t really do this. In fact that’s not really the mayor’s role. The functions of the mayor are covered in the Local Government Act Section 27. It comes down to leadership, representation, governance and ceremony.

Let’s look at these in reverse order.

Ceremonial functions are things like citizenship ceremonies. This is, for some people, their only interaction with council and the mayor is the figurehead who provides a public face for the bureaucracy.

Representation is acting as spokesperson and accurately presenting the council’s position (regardless of how the mayor personally voted on an issue). Mayors still only get one vote the same as all the other councillors. The mayor might have a personal opinion on something, which they are quite welcome to express, but their role as a representative of council is to communicate the council’s opinion, not their own.

Governance is ‘doing things right’. There are all sorts of rules, whether in legislation or regulation, that are there to make sure councillors and council officers are doing things right. Unless these rules are adhered to, and seen to be adhered to, there is room for corruption, cronyism and nepotism to corrode good governance. The councillors employ a general manager to oversee management but retain an oversight responsibility to ensure that things are being done right.

Leadership is ‘doing the right thing’. Councillors are elected by the community to represent them and to make decisions on their behalf. A great deal of trust is being placed in those elected members. The mayor has a role in leading the council to ensure that it is doing what the community expect from it.

So, at this October’s council elections, take a look at the promises of your mayoral candidates. By all means, hear what they believe, what they are passionate about, what gets them up in the morning. Those are the things that will make them a councillor who you can support. But also listen to what they say they can bring as a mayor. Are they talking about governance and leadership, or about pushing their own barrow?

Disclaimer: I’m standing for Mayor of Kingborough in the October 2018 local government election. If you think I’ve got things wrong here, or that I’m not living by the values that I’m promoting, please let me know.

Closed meetings – what’s going on in there?

Closed sign

What goes on in ‘secret’ closed council meetings?

In my four years on Kingborough Council the reality hasn’t been nearly as exciting as the newspapers would have you believe. The topics for debate are listed in the open agenda, available to the public. Let’s have a look at last Monday’s meeting:

  • Confirmation of Minutes
  • Applications for Leave of Absence
  • Kingston Park Land Release Strategy – Assessment of Development Proposals
  • Tender Assessment – TS2688 Barretta Landfill Gas Extension
  • AB1808 Provision for Traffic Management Services.

Also listed are the reasons that these items are in a closed meeting. They’re Regulations 34(6) and 15(2) of the Local Government (Meeting Procedures) Regulations 2015.

Regulation 35(6):
At the next closed meeting, the minutes of a closed meeting, after any necessary correction, are to be confirmed as the true record by the council or council committee and signed by the chairperson of the closed meeting.

Regulation 15(2) lists reasons that council may consider matters in closed session. Last meeting the important points were (c), (d) and (h). (h) regards requests for leave of absence. This is standard and protects councillors’ privacy. (d) protects commercial information. This was the two tender assessments. If you tender for a job we don’t let the world, and especially your competitors, know what price you put in. Seems fair. Maybe (c) is juicer:

(c) commercial information of a confidential nature that, if disclosed, is likely to –
(i) prejudice the commercial position of the person who supplied it; or
(ii) confer a commercial advantage on a competitor of the council; or
(iii) reveal a trade secret;

That was what took the Kingston Park assessment into closed. Council had invited potential developers to present their proposals for the Kingston Park site. They did this on the grounds that council wouldn’t share their information with their competitors. It is worth noting here that the topic isn’t a tender assessment, as it was portrayed by some.

Was it a surprise to anyone that this would take place in a closed meeting? No. The process had been agreed to by the council, in open session back on 13 February 2018. (No need to take my word on this, it’s on the council website.) It should have been well known to all the councillors that this decision was going to take place around late September and that there would be confidential information that would be discussed in closed session.