KINGSTON councillors have backed away from hiring an independent observer to monitor their behaviour during debate at meetings.
Earlier this month, councillors voted to investigate the possibility of employing an outsider to watch council meetings – both in public and behind closed doors – to advise whether action was needed to raise standards (‘Who watches the councillors?’, The News, 18/6/14).
Councillors asked Kingston CEO John Nevins to investigate the costs of hiring such a person, but the proposal has been quickly shot down before it could even go out to tender.
Cr Ron Brownlees seemed to get cold feet over the proposal, doing an about turn on his previous support for the move.
At this week’s council meeting, Cr Brownlees said he had previously backed the decision “with some reservations” but said he could not justify paying “a mediator” ratepayers’ money to watch council meetings for the proposed three-month period.
Cr Brownlees noted councillors’ behaviour is governed by a councillors’ code of conduct, meeting procedure laws and state government legislation.
He said local government legislation stated no councillor should make “defamatory, indecent, abusive, offensive or disorderly statement or comment” during debate.
This had never occurred during his time as a Kingston councillor, according to Cr Brownlees.
“I think – in general – this council is pretty well behaved,” Cr Brownlees said.
“I have never heard any personal abuse or vilification of anyone. Certainly there has been strong questioning of people on their particular position or philosophy over a subject under debate but that’s healthy for any council.”
He said, as far as he could determine, there would have been no penalty for councillors’ misbehaviour even if an independent observer had made recommendations.
Cr David Eden made the original suggestion to bring in an observer after becoming “troubled” at the conduct of some councillors during heated debate over contentious issues.
Several contentious issues over the past few months – including possible rezoning of parts of Kingston’s Green Wedge and the reformation of the village committees consultation process – have often seen councillors narrowly split five to four on key decisions.
Cr Brownlees said he was against “someone from outside coming in and telling us how to behave” since they “do not have the right”.
“You know what? [If they did], I’ll tell them how I feel about it.”
Crs Eden, Geoff Gledhill and Rosemary West voted in favour of seeking to hire an independent observer.
Crs Tamsin Bearsley, Brownlees and the mayor, Cr Paul Peulich, opposed the move.
Crs John Ronke and Steve Staikos were absent. Cr Tamara Barth had to leave the meeting earlier in proceedings.
Cr Peulich said he had used his mayoral “casting vote” to “maintain the status quo”.