Questions over lack of transparency

Questions over lack of transparency

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A Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale councillor has spoken out about what he describes as a lack of transparency, internal alliances and excessive red tape, which led to the ‘unnecessary’ deferral of a councillor’s development application. 

Last month, officers recommended the council approve the construction of a 1595 square metre private horse arena and a 150,000 litre water tank at councillor Michael Dagostino’s property on Kargotich Road in Oakford. 

But Shire President Michelle Rich moved to defer the item on the grounds that there were questions about the development that had not yet been answered – a move supported by councillors Bill Denholm, Dave Atwell and Morgan Byas. 

Councillor Keira McConkey questioned the validity of the decision, demanding to know what information had been requested and not provided. 

Late last month, Examiner Newspapers revealed that at the time the item was deferred, shire officers were not aware of any outstanding enquiries from councillors. 

Development Services director Andrew Trosic confirmed that publicly on Monday, stating councillors were requested to identify what further information they required on October 29 and that one response was received on November 3, more than a fortnight after the item was deferred. 

The independent consultant is understood to have addressed the questions the following day. 

Councillor Dean Strautins moved the officer’s recommendation to approve the development, criticising what he deemed to be a deviation from standard processes. 

“This is a councillor’s application and that makes it very delicate, but we have had a great departure from our standard processes,” he said. 

“Over the last few weeks, there have been unnecessary delays and red herring questions. 

“I was shocked to find out that there were no unanswered questions at the time the item was deferred. 

“If we get too carried away blindly supporting the shire president’s motions, we will not be following the correct process. 

“I demand better processes from our shire president, who some may argue has an even higher duty of care.” 

But the Shire President interjected, urging councillor Strautins to stick to the agenda item instead of personally attacking her. 

“We have followed these procedures because the applicant is a councillor and the process has been transparent,” she said. 

“Applications from councillors are managed very carefully to ensure the highest possible standard of probity and governance. 

“We have huge road safety concerns within this shire, so conditions to make the road safer is not unheard of for any application.” (Referring to suggested road improvements as a condition of the proposal’s approval). 

The motion to approve the proposal was carried 4/3, with councillors Rich, Byas and Atwell against. 

Resident Lisa Brazier questioned why the response from chief executive Paul Martin, which proved the discrepancy, had not been included in the minutes as the formal response to councillor McConkey’s question.

Councillor Rob Coales echoed her sentiments and argued that the council had a duty to correct the minutes before they were accepted.

“I find it interesting that responses to questions asked by ratepayers are included in the minutes, but the response to a councillor’s question isn’t recorded anywhere,” he said. 

“How is that honest? How is that truthful?

“We must show transparency and honesty, we must show what actually happened.” 

When the motion to include the correspondence in the minutes was lost, councillor Coales asked that the votes of councillors be recorded as they may become ‘quite important’ – a statement many believed implied that the decision could become the subject of a review by the Local Government Standards Panel.