Councillor Media Communications

I have submitted the following Notice of Motion to the next Ordinary Council Meeting to be held 26 June 2018 regarding Councillors being able to communicate through the media.  This includes:

  • All traditional forms of media,
  • Dealings with reporters from newspaper, television and radio; and
  • Contributions made to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter etc.

 


NOTICE OF MOTION:

That Council:

  1. Provides in-principle support for Councillors being able to openly discuss community issues and matters of Council business through public forums, social media and through the media – consistent with the Australian principles of free speech and transparent governance – so long as the communications do not conflict with the provisions of the Local Government Act 1995 other relevant laws or Council decisions.
  2. Requests the Chief Executive Officer undertake a review of the Code of Conduct (Elected Members) and the Code of Conduct (Employees) to:

a.  Ensure Alignment with the Local Government Act 1995.

b.  Remove any perceived or potential ambiguity or barriers that would prevent Councillors communicating through social media, media or other public means on matters related to local community interest and issues of Council business

c.  Report back to Council on recommended amendments to the Codes of Practice by August 2018.


RATIONALE:

The recent public discussions regarding fox trapping has highlighted some internal conflict of the interpretation and application of the Code of Conduct (Elected Members).  Specifically, the City is applying a rigid interpretation that Code of Conduct by stating “that speaking to the media is not the role” of a Councillor.

I don’t support this position, and I don’t believe that is what is contained in the Act or in the Code.

Regarding the Local Government Act, the Mayor is the appointed spokesperson on behalf of the local government.  This authority does not extend to being the sole voice of all matters of community interest.

Indeed, there have been many examples of Councillors appearing before the media and in newspaper articles on such local issues, some even criticising decisions of other local government Councils.

The provisions of the Code allow for Councillors to communicate to the media where:

  • Unless otherwise authorised to do so, Elected Members [or Employees] who make public statements express them as opinions only, which do not necessarily represent the Shire’s position.
  • Consequently, Elected Members [and Employees] should not speak publicly about Council business without authorisation to do so.

It is important to note that these constraints apply to all media, which includes:

  • All traditional forms of media,
  • Dealings with reporters from newspaper, television and radio; and
  • Contributions made to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter etc.

If this is the case, it could be a fair assumption that many City of Kalamunda Councillors may already be in breach on the last item related to contributions to Social Media, as a number have their own self-managed pages.

While it is clear that Councillors should support Council decisions once that decision is taken, in the interests of engaging in public discourse about issues of community concern on matters either in the public realm or only known once they appear in agenda papers and that are yet to be discussed at Council, then Councillors action to speak up should be encouraged.  I believe this is completely in accordance with the Role of the Councillor as defined under the Act.  The current culture however is to effectively prohibit Councillors from participating in any discussion.

This should not be taken as working against the local government administration, or other Councillors, but as a means of facilitating open and transparent discussion and improving Council decision making.

I fear that the level of control over media discussions is in some part hindering confidence in Council decisions, as the community is not aware of the range of issues considered.  This may be improved through more open communication, dialogue and discussion – and use of media (in whatever form) is the vehicle for delivering this message to a broader audience.

Council and the City administration is responsibility for protecting its reputation and managing issues effectively, as it is accountable to ensuring the community and the Council stakeholders are appropriately informed.

Elected members should not have their ability to represent the community constrained by the perception of what should or should not be discussed with the Community.  That is the Elected Members’ responsibility, and the laws and the code of conduct that support this.

It is my view that the current interpretation (real or perceived) of the Act and the Code is not facilitating reasonable, open discussion with the community and is worthy of a review.


 

 

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