Shire’s draft Governance Rules open for comment

June 6, 2021 BY

The shire's proposed Governance Rules will change the way debate is carried out in the council chamber. Photo: PETER MARSHALL

THE Surf Coast Shire has released its draft Governance Rules for public comment despite the continuing objections of one of its own councillors.

The Governance Rules were initially adopted by the council in September last year and were required to be reviewed within 12 months of the 2020 general election.

Changes to voting provisions include removing divisions by request and updating the minuting process to record the votes of each councillor every time, and providing a process for separating lengthy and complex motions into separate parts for the purpose of voting at the chair’s discretion, where each item could feasibly be implemented separately.

Changes to motions, amendments and notices of motion include:

  • Providing a clearer definition of a motion
  • Making it clearer that motions must be moved in full before they are seconded, and
  • Providing improved clarity around matters relating to notices of motion.

There are additional definitions of what constitutes an amendment and the processes involved.

The debate process has been changed by providing the chair with the option to invite councillors to speak to a motion where there is no clear for/against debate, and renaming “right of reply” to “closing statement”.

“Having well-defined Governance Rules enhances the democratic process by providing a clearer decision-making mechanism,” shire mayor Libby Stapleton said.

“The document needs to be clear so that we spend less time debating the chair’s rulings and more time debating how we achieve the best outcomes for our community.”

Cr Heather Wellington, who has objected to the new draft Governance Rules since they were proposed, moved at the May 25 council meeting to defer adopting the rules until the shire’s new chief executive officer could review them, which was narrowly lost four votes to five.

Earlier in the meeting, she also unsuccessfully moved two notices of motion: firstly, to change the minutes of February’s meeting to acknowledge two amendments she attempted to move during debate on the Councillor Code of Conduct were valid; and secondly, to make the same five amendments she proposed in February to the code, including “confirming the code applies to councillors only in the course of performing their duties and functions as councillors”, “removing the exhortation to councillors to provide public praise and private criticism”, and “removing the requirement to use temperate language”.

“I don’t care what you want to debate, I may not agree with it, but I will support your right to debate it, and I’m deeply, deeply disappointed that this council has introduced so many rules and blockages that are actually intended to stop people from raising issues they feel deeply about,” Cr Wellington said.

“The way we’re running this council is anti-democratic; people are being prevented from expressing their views.

“We are now going to embed this in our new Governance Rules unless they are changed.”

Cr Rose Hodge disputed the notion the shire was anti-democratic, observing the council had held two meetings since the code was adopted in February.

“We’re all able to say what we need to say to each other’s faces here and pay respect to each other in private as well,” she said.

The draft Governance Rules are now on public exhibition. Head to the Surf Coast Shire’s website to read them or make a comment.