AN independent observer will be hired by Kingston Council to observe councillors’ behaviour and advise whether action is needed.
Councillors backed Cr David Eden’s suggestion at a council meeting this month to bring in an outsider to monitor and provide feedback to council about the standard of debate at council meetings.
Several contentious issues over the past few months – including potential rezoning of parts of Kingston’s Green Wedge and the reformation of the village committees consultation process – has often seen councillors narrowly split on key decisions.
Cr Eden said he was “concerned about the way a council officer was treated” at a meeting recently and had also been approached by fellow councillors who felt “uncomfortable” at council meetings.
“I, on a number of occasions, haven’t felt comfortable in council meetings because of the way in which people are exchanging comments.”
Cr Ron Brownlees said he hoped “it isn’t… a witch hunt” but supported bringing in an independent observer.
“I’m happy for someone to come in even though it will cost us,” he said. “Councils can be difficult by their nature.”
However, Cr Geoff Gledhill opposed the hiring of an independent assessor, noting councillors would disagree on some matters.
“We have debates, we have arguments, we have differences of opinion – if councillors don’t like that, perhaps they’re in the wrong job,” he said.
“I would hope we have enough professional governance people around us who could advise councillors if they’re stepping outside what are the accepted boundaries.”
Cr Rosemary West supported the move. She said she had recently attended a Frankston Council meeting as a spectator and the meeting was “really well chaired and it was impeccably polite”.
Cr West noted a governance expert lawyer was in attendance and told her he was advising Frankston councillors’ on their behaviour at meetings.
“If it’s good enough for Frankston Council to have someone come and monitor the conduct at their meetings, I think it should be good enough for us.”
Cr Eden denied he was being “precious” and said he was “happy to have debate and have it publicly”.
“It’s good for us to have debates – my concern is there haven’t been constructive debates.”
Crs Tamara Barth, Brownlees Eden and West voted to bring in an independent observer. Crs Gledhill and mayor Paul Peulish opposed the move and Cr Tamsin Bearsley abstained. Cr John Ronke was absent from the meeting.
Councillors will now ask council’s CEO to provide cost estimates for the independent observer appointment.