City of Melville silences public at monthly agenda briefings

City of Melville silences public at monthly agenda briefings

THE City of Melville has quashed public question time at its monthly agenda briefing forums (ABF), a move that has angered the Melville Residents and Ratepayers Association (MRRA).

Since May, the MRRA has asked nearly 60 questions on topics ranging from the City’s procurement processes to private use of City vehicles and the repeated early renewal of chief executive Shayne Silcox’s contract.

MRRA secretary Mark McLerie said the decision would halve residents’ opportunities to question the council and showed the City’s administration was uncomfortable with the MRRA’s ongoing scrutiny.

“This latest directive is in direct conflict with a decision made by council in July 2006 to accept and answer questions at agenda briefing forums in order to improve transparency and openness,” he said.

In July 2006, Melville council voted 11-1 to replace its bi-monthly standing committees with an agenda briefing forum that was open to the public, and included provision for public question time and deputations.

Mayor Russell Aubrey and councillors Clive Robartson, Duncan Macphail and June Barton were all on Melville council at the time of the decision.

The MRRA was informed of the change in policy – which has not been voted on by council – after attempting to submit 17 questions ahead of last week’s ABF.

MRRA president Gary Crawford emailed all Melville councillors to query the change, asking if it was in response to the nature and frequency of the questions asked.

Cr Robartson was curt in his response.

“I think you have answered your own question,” he wrote. “When a privilege is abused, it is taken away.”

Contacted last week, Cr Robartson said he stood by his email.

“Question time, as I interpret it under the Local Government Act, is there for residents of the district to ask questions of the council that are relevant to its operation and the matters before it,” he said.

“It would appear to me that the repetitious questions being put to council in recent times are not in the best interest of the wider ratepayers but are taking up a very significant amount of the City administration’s time.”

Dr Silcox said agenda briefing forums were an opportunity for elected members to familiarise themselves with the items to be voted on at ordinary council meetings, which occur a fortnight after the ABF.

“While considering the City’s statutory role earlier this year, it was deemed appropriate, in line with the Local Government Act, to deal with public questions at an ordinary meeting of council,” he said.

He said public questions could be submitted in writing by email at any time prior to an ordinary council meeting.