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Call to ban councillor meetings outside Town Hall

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Elected members should be banned from gathering outside meetings to discuss council matters under changes to the Local Government Act, some Adelaide City Councillors say, as factional tensions simmer at Town Hall.

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Under proposed reforms to the Local Government Act, the State Government is currently seeking to establish a new kind of council meeting – referred to as “information” or “briefing” sessions – that would allow elected members to receive information on council matters or undertake training in confidence.

Councils are already permitted to hold informal briefing sessions; however, they are policed by strict guidelines that determine when they are appropriate and whether they should be held in public.

At an Adelaide City Council committee meeting last night, councillors debated the proposed reforms, with area councillor Robert Simms flagging he was concerned the reforms did not address informal gatherings of councillors to pre-determine votes.

“My understanding with the (current) Local Government Act is if you have half the council discussing council business before council meetings, that is in breach,” he said.

“I don’t mind relaxing the rules around informal CEO briefings, but I think it’s important that we continue to prevent pre-caucusing.

“If you have an informal meeting then that provides an opportunity for a councillor to form an pre-conceived position on an issue before they’ve heard any debate in the chamber.

“It’s an important principle for us to include in our submission (to the State Government).”

Simms told InDaily this morning that he was not suggesting that councillors should be banned from “catching up socially”; rather, he wanted to prevent elected members “forming a pre-conceived vote like a faction before a formal meeting”.

It follows the emergence of the Team Adelaide majority faction at Town Hall, which, according to InDaily’s last count, voted together for 91 per cent of motions this term.

Members of the faction have continually denied rumours that they meet in secret to discus how they will vote, or that they remain aligned following last November’s council election.

Simms, who is not a member of Team Adelaide, told InDaily this morning his comments were not targeting the faction.

“I will let people draw their conclusions, but I am not suggesting any wrongdoing,” he said.

Simms’ call to ban informal meetings between councillors was supported by fellow non-Team Adelaide councillors Phil Martin and Anne Moran.

Martin said last night that there should be “penalties” associated with councillors who secretly pre-caucus council decisions.

He told InDaily this morning during a previous council term some elected members had met to determine the outcome of the budget before a formal meeting on the matter.

“I’m speaking generally but if we are to have a local government environment in which factions or political parties continue to constitute the majority on council, we need to be clear that the Local Government Act does not support informal meetings to determine outcomes on council,” he said.

But area councillor Franz Knoll, who is a member of Team Adelaide, said it would be difficult to define what constituted a meeting.

“I’m intrigued in this day and age when we can communicate in all fashions, I don’t know what is or isn’t a quorate meeting,” he said.

“When you gather people together with a particular function etcetera at what point is something called a meeting?

“If you’re talking about the weather, at what point does that make a difference to the council?”

The State Government’s Local Government Reform discussion paper states current provisions “give rise to a view that it is not appropriate for council members to discuss council business between themselves; or cannot hold social gatherings”.

“This has never been the intent of the legislation,” it states.

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