A REPORT highlighting the amount of council resources spent by the City of Melville responding to public questions will be sent to the State Government to consider as part of its Local Government Act review.
But there are concerns among some Melville councillors the move suggests to residents they should remain quiet.
The City is currently reviewing its policy on question time at committee and council meetings, with an internal audit revealing it had spent $179,000 worth of staff time and resources answering questions from its ratepayers over the 14-month period to July 31, 2017.
Most – 53 per cent of questions – were put to the City from 10 entities within the community, with many of the queries considered by City staff to be “repetitive and in some cases inappropriate”.
Chief executive Shayne Silcox argued the number and nature of queries was “having an impact on the organisation”.
“It would seem to me many of (the questions put to the City) are to entrap certain people on council,” he said.
“What I’m saying is that there will be budget impacts moving forward if this is not addressed or there will be impacts on the health and wellbeing of my staff.”
Dr Silcox said he had written to Local Government Minister David Templeman with the report already but added it should be included as part of a Melville submission into the Local Government Act Review “because I believe if council comes to that view themselves, that adds more weight to the argument put forward”.
Councillor Clive Robartson said it was important members of the public had a chance to ask questions but backed a committee recommendation for the report to feature in the City’s submission to the State Government.
“When you look at the data before us tonight – 10 entities – it really is extreme,” he said.
“I think any sensible council has to start asking that question; is it reasonable that so much time be taken up by such a small part of our population and clearly it isn’t.”
Cr Duncan Macphail said the amount could be better spent on other services.But Cr Nicholas Pazolli described the report as “unacceptable to the community”.
“You cannot tell citizens of this district or this council that they will not be heard,” he said.
“They do not make those complaints willy-nilly; they do so after a long series of failures to get a response to their concerns .”
He said if questions were answered fully “there is no need for citizens to ask that question again”.
Cr Katy Mair said she did not have a problem with the report being sent to the minister, but believed putting it before council could give the impression “we don’t want to answer (residents’) questions, (that) they’re just there to pay rates and be quiet”.
Cr June Barton said the majority of questions came from a small number of entities because they were a voice for several hundred people.
Deputy Mayor Matthew Woodall said the report was not about “how each of us determines whether the questions have merit” or why so many questions were being asked.
“The fact is there are a lot of questions being asked, it is relevant because the Act and the regulations don’t provide clarity and it is something the Minister needs to be aware of and consider as part of the review,” he said.
“Following that I’m sure he can make a determination as to why there are so many questions and the best way to deal with them.”Councillors voted 8-5 on Tuesday evening in favour of submitting the data to Mr Templeman.
On the same night councillors carried 12-1 a motion from Cr Woodall requesting the chief executive be guided by a set of principals while undertaking the review of public question time.
Among them was the need for a minimum of 15 minutes for question time, for questions and answers to be recorded in the minutes and for any comments or questions considered defamatory or not in compliance with the law to be deleted from the record.
“This is not any attempt to circumvent applicable laws,” Cr Woodall said.
“This is saying we should make our best efforts to answer questions and by doing that we can increase the community’s and public’s confidence in the council and City of Melville.”
The question time review is due in February.