Restrictions on elected members speaking to media undemocratic, says City of Kalamunda councillor

City of Kalamunda Cr Tracy Destree says the voice of local government councillors are increasingly under threat when faced with issues that escalate to the media. Picture: David Baylis d483624
City of Kalamunda Cr Tracy Destree says the voice of local government councillors are increasingly under threat when faced with issues that escalate to the media. Picture: David Baylis d483624

A CITY of Kalamunda councillor says restricting elected members from speaking to the media and penalising those that do is undemocratic.

Councillor Tracy Destree said after her public call for a review of the City’s fox control program she was told councillors could not speak with the media.

“As a councillor, I felt the need to act after a pet was seriously injured after being caught in a metal sprung fox trap,” she said.

“There was understandable outrage from the community as the trap was set in a popular, suburban sporting reserve, frequented by residents, children and their pets and adjacent to a primary school.

“The risk of community exposure to these buried traps appeared unacceptable.

“The matter quickly made headline news so I proposed a motion to council seeking the removal of these traps from sporting reserves, questioning the effectiveness of the fox control program and seeking alternate, safer options.

“As a councillor, and as chair of the Audit and Risk Committee, I have an obligation to oversee operational performance and verify effectiveness on behalf of ratepayers.”

City chief executive Rhonda Hardy said the City’s Code of Conduct stated only the Mayor, or the chief executive if the Mayor agrees, could speak on behalf of the City.

“Unless otherwise authorised to do so, elected members who make public statements express them as opinions only, which do not necessarily represent the City’s position,” she said.

“Consequently, elected members should not speak publicly about council business without authorisation to do so.

“Councillors are advised to follow the code and seek advice when they are approached by the media and to refer questions through our normal process through the City’s Manager of Customer and PR.”

However Cr Destree said the rules were clear that councillors could speak to the media on the proviso they speak as individuals, not on behalf of the council.

“Any assertion that an elected member has a fiduciary duty to a council or a local government that is superior to their relationship with the community should be challenged,” she said.

“Are we not elected as councillors to provide our community with a voice?

“I believe we are, and that the local government does not, and could not, usurp that authority.”

A Department of Local Government spokeswoman said it was important there was one official voice for the local government.

“Under the Local Government Act, the Mayor is the delegated spokesperson on behalf of the local government and a councillor’s role is to facilitate communication between the community and the council,” she said.

“Some local governments also have policies in place which set out under what circumstances other council members can talk to the media.

“Generally this includes a requirement that the council member clearly states that they are not speaking on behalf of the local government – or alternatively that the statement is approved by the mayor or president before release.”

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