Belmont City Council concerned open meetings a “reputational” risk

A CITY of Belmont staff report has warned that opening information forums and standing committees to members of the public could lead to a “very real reputational risk” to the city.

It could also be “counterproductive” to good governance.

The report was provided for background information to a motion moved by Councillor Patrick Gardner in March to open the meetings to the public.

Cr Gardner’s proposal was referred to a special information forum for further discussion before it was voted on at the council’s May meeting.

He said it would “provide greater transparency and accountability to the electors of the City of Belmont”.

“The standards and practices for confidential items are to be observed, as is undertaken for ‘Matters for which the meeting may be Closed’ during Agenda Briefing Forums and Ordinary Council meetings,” he said in his report to council.

A staff report said councillors could not be expected to talk openly and frankly, and may not contribute to meetings in the same way if there were members of the public present if information forums were opened to the public.

No decisions are made at information forums, which encourage discussion in a less formal environment.

“Standing Committees were open to the public prior to introduction of the Agenda Briefing Forum” it said.

“However this did not work well. During the meetings, business often could not be conducted because of interruptions, with people and developers having to be removed from the meetings due to bad behaviour.”

The report said there had been no evidence council decisions were not transparent.

“It is difficult to find any tangible benefit to the decision-making process or the community by amending the current practice to allow public attendance at information forums and standing committees,” it said.

“Potential confusion that may arise from a public perspective presents a very real reputational risk for the city and is counterproductive.

“It is important for effective management that councillors, the CEO and relevant staff are afforded the opportunity to discuss matters of concept and strategy etc. in an environment that is conducive, such as the information forum, without unnecessary public scrutiny.”

Cr Gardner was not at the meeting, but the seconder of his motion, Councillor Lauren Cayoun said opening the meetings would increase the council’s transparency.

It would give people an opportunity to look a little more closely at the council’s decision-making process.

“It would be a good way for residents to engage a lot more deeply with council with issues that matter to them,” Cr Cayoun said.

The motion was lost, 3-5.