City of Melville councillors back legal policy update after lengthy debate

City of Melville councillors back legal policy update after lengthy debate

A POLICY update Melville chief executive Shayne Silcox says will create a safer working environment has been backed by council, despite a late push to have it re-written to sound less aggressive.

The updated legal representation policy – a guide to the level of support offered to councillors and City employees who become involved in legal proceeding in the course of their jobs – was supported 6-3 after about 50 minutes of debate on Tuesday evening.

Dr Silcox said staff had previously been assaulted and threatened by members of the community, arguing revisions were needed to support employees.

“The situations I’ve given you and one I can’t even describe – it’s horrific – are happening,” he told council.

“It’s not about targeting certain groups as (some councillors) might think; I want to provide a safe workplace.

“I don’t believe at times I work in a safe workplace and I have said that a number of times.”

A talking point on the night, as it was during a briefing earlier this month, was point 1C of the policy.

Some councillors believed one line, which includes “The City, at the discretion of the chief executive officer…” and “exceptional circumstances” would potentially see members of the community sued for simply speaking out against the local government.

Councillor Katy Mair asked for a deferral so the policy could be re-written.

She said that was “not because I’m against the intent of what (the policy is) trying to do but I am concerned about how it’s written”.

“I do find it an aggressive policy. That’s my concern about this,” she said.

Also speaking against it, Nick Pazolli said there was wide range of legal, police or complaints processes in place that council or the individuals could call on to protect themselves.

He said changes could convert a defensive policy that protects City councillors and staff into an attacking one.

“This change will not achieve the objectives that perhaps the authors have hoped for,” he said.

“In fact it may achieve the exact opposite in continuing to aggravate the City’s citizens and may result in even greater levels of conflict.”

Local Government Minister David Templeman previously told Community News it was on the City to make a call about the appropriateness of the policy.

“Ultimately it is a matter for the council to resolve and it is during the debate that elected members can raise their concerns or put forward alternative motions,” he said.

Item 1C of the updated legal representation policy sparked plenty of debate between Melville councillors Tuesday night:
“The City, at the discretion of the chief executive officer, may seek preliminary advice on any aspect relating to such comments and criticisms of relevance to it and may support action where exceptional circumstances are involved – for example, where a person or organisation is potentially lessening the confidence of the community in the local government by publically making adverse personal comments about elected members of employees. The value of the preliminary advice is not to exceed $5000.”

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