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Friday, February 18, 2011

The Mayor Hides Behind Closed Doors

HITTING BACK: Mayor Allan Sutherland has responded to criticism over council's closed sessions.
HITTING BACK: Mayor Allan Sutherland has responded to criticism over council's closed sessions.
THE practice of closing parts of some Moreton Bay Regional Council meetings to the public has been defended by Mayor Allan Sutherland.
He was responding to an attack by the Moreton Bay Ratepayers Action Group (MBRAG) chairman Dennis Austen, who said the council had too many confidential sessions in its meetings.
``For example, on December 14, the last council meeting for the year, there were 13 confidential matters,’’ Mr Austen said.
``Since the first meeting on January 18, there has already been seven confidential matters.’‘
Cr Sutherland said the council had to abide by the requirements of the Local Government Act.
``We are in breach if we don’t go into confidential sessions. It’s not our choice,’’ he said.
Mr Austen said it appeared that the criteria for confidentiality was very broad. 
``The point of local government is to look after the ratepayers and should be very transparent in their decision making and function,’’ he said.
Section 72 of the Local Government (Operations) Regulation 2010 says a council can close a meeting to the public ``if its councillors or members consider it necessary’’ to discuss certain types of information.
This includes staff matters, budgets, rating concessions, contracts, starting or defending legal proceedings, action under the Integrated Planning Act and ``other business for which a public discussion would be likely to prejudice the interests of the local government’‘.
A council spokesman said that under section 12 of the Local Government Act 2009, councillors had a responsibility to represent the current and future interests of the residents.
``Councillors must consider their responsibilities under the Act when determining whether a meeting should be closed to the public,’’ the spokesman said.
``The responsibility to represent the interests of residents may naturally result in a decision to close a meeting where the subject of discussion could prejudice the interests of the council and, by extension, those of its constituents.’’  Northern Times