A tremor of considerable Richter force set the wine glasses dancing at the Besgrove St bunker last week, within days of our new council being sworn in on 14 November – perhaps a portent of something even more ground-shaking yet to come.
The disturbance emanated from a new policy titled ‘Councillor and Staff Interactions Policy 2016’, presented as a fait accompli at a meeting late last week. Bandicoot believes it was prepared secretly by staff supervised by Chief Executive Officer Carl Cowie and governance manager Joe Spiteri.
Eager to bring to his devoted readers details of the policy (which was said to have been designated a public document by Mr Cowie, pictured right), Bandicoot emailed shire communications manager Mark Kestigian on Friday Nov 18 asking for a copy:
“Could you please send me a copy of the new ‘Councillor and Staff Interaction Policy 2016’, which I believe has been recently released. I understand CEO Carl Cowie has deemed it a public document. I searched the shire web page today but could not find it. I assume you will be able to send it to me by email.”
Mr Kestigian’s email response arrived today (Monday 21 Nov) just before 3pm. It said:
“Thank you for your recent email. The policy that you refer to in your email is an internal policy document. Such documents are not placed on our website but rather on the Shire’s intranet staff system.”
Bandicoot responded the same day:
“Thank you for your prompt response to my request. I was given to understand that the policy had been designated by Mr Cowie as a public document. Since its contents, so far as I am aware of them, appear to inhibit councillors and enhance the executive, I am surprised that the document is to be kept from the public.
“Perhaps the newly elected councillors have a role in deciding the status of the document.”
The policy has caused a suppressed sensation among councillors, Bandicoot understands. An exception was Cr Antonella Celi, who is said to have supported it unreservedly.
The policy states its intent is to define “appropriate interactions between elected officials (Councillors) and employees of the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council (staff)” and “should be used by both Councillors and staff to assist them in understanding and defining their own interactions”.
It goes on to state that “The owner of this policy is the Chief Executive Officer”, adding that “All enquiries regarding this policy should be initially directed to the Manager Governance”.
None of this is of much concern, Bandicoot feels. But a very disquieting feature of the policy is that council officers can apparently decide which councillor requests “can be accommodated”.
It appears that a councillor request to a senior manager will be discussed by the manager and staff, then the councillor will be told if the request is denied or approved.
A councillor who presses his or her case for the request to be prioritised could face action on a complaint from staff that improper or undue influence or direction had been used in making the request – in which case the councillor could face disciplinary action and, while this was being resolved, his or her request could go into limbo.
Bandicoot remains confident that the new policy document will be made available to the public. He will keep his readers informed of “news as it comes to hand”, as the old ambulance chasers used to say.