Council delays decision on accountability policy

Macedon Ranges council has deferred a decision on its Councillor Interaction with External Planning Matters policy. (Damjan Janevski)

By Oliver Lees

Macedon Ranges councillors have agreed to delay a decision on a policy relating to councillor accountability in planning matters in order to clarify the extent to which the policy will monitor councillor conduct.

The Councillor Interaction with External Planning Matters policy was tabled at last week’s meeting, with the aim of defining the parameters to which councillors can interact with external parties in relation to planning matters.

The document states that it is “in the interests of effective governance to ensure that all planning decisions are transparent and open to the community”.

The draft policy outlines a number of measures to ensure greater accountability of councillors, including that any recorded meeting relating to a land use planning matter be forwarded to council, if the meeting took place without a council officer present.

Newly elected deputy mayor Rob Guthrie said the policy did not go far enough, and recommended an amendment whereby a recording requirement be introduced for all such meetings.

Cr Guthrie said he felt compelled to add further weight to the document after council consulted with a public law expert.

“[The expert] strongly recommended that we record details of all contacts on planning matters to protect ourselves and avoid accusations of prejudging the matter and maintaining impartiality,” he said.

“The alternate motion I’m providing will … provide the protection and certainty of an open transparent planning process.”

The departure from the policy outlined in the document received a mixed reaction from Cr Guthrie’s peers, who were uncertain of the extent to which it would apply in everyday situations.

Cr Mark Ridgeway said although he appreciates Cr Guthrie’s intention, the proposed policy could add unnecessary process.

“Basically, that includes things like people tapping on the shoulder in the supermarket, or ringing up for a casual conversation on the phone,” he said.

“I would think that would be a lot of work for us and a lot of work for council officers.”

Supporting the motion, mayor Jennifer Anderson said “it was better to be setting the bar high” and that councillors “have absolutely nothing to hide”.

After more than 30 minutes of discussion, in which several councillors spoke in opposition, Cr Guthrie clarified that his intended meaning was that the policy would apply only to active planning matters.

Councillors agreed to defer a decision on the item and planned for it to be revisited in March next year.