The Whittlesea tapes

By Brooke Haffenden

QUESTIONS about one of Melbourne’s most secretive councils have once again risen after the governance and transparency of the City of Whittlesea was called in to question.

The City of Whittlesea Council was last year named one of the most secretive councils – for the second year in a row – with more than one quarter of its decisions made behind closed doors. And again the organisation is in the spotlight for what some councillors are calling a “cover up”.

At last week’s Ordinary Council Meeting, North Ward Cr Ricky Kirkham questioned the accuracy of council’s minutes from the February 6 meeting.

Cr Kirkham asked for a note to be attached to the minutes stating there was no suspension of standing orders to close the meeting to confidential business.

While Cr Kirkham alleged the meeting was “closed illegally in contravention of the Local Government Act”, other councillors around the table recalled a different version of events.

Councillors such as Alahna Desiato and Mary Lalios proposed the issue could be clarified by listening to the council’s ‘taped’ recording of the event, but were knocked back with councillors Kris Pavlidis, Sam Alessi, Stevan Kozmevski, Lawrie Cox, Emilia Lisa Sterjova and Tom Joseph voting the amendment down.

Concerned councillors questioned Manager Governance Michael Tonta and CEO Simon Overland about whether council officers had listened to the tape when producing the minutes.

Mr Tonta said he didn’t believe officers needed to listen to the tape while Mr Overland said it was role of officers to prepare the minutes for councillors to determine if they are accurate.

Cr Cox called the request “another exercise in deferrals” and “another exercise of a filibuster”.

Cr Alessi said his recollection of the event was clear and not only did Mayor Pavlidis have the right to close the meeting but members of staff also advised the public that the meeting was suspended.

The Whittlesea Review was in attendance at the February 6 meeting where Cr Pavlidis closed the meeting just after 9pm when members of the public gallery became vocally irate.

Mayhem ensued when members of the public, including journalists, were told to leave.
On multiple occasions the media were told by council staff that councillors were debating public agenda items in confidential business and no one was allowed back in.

However, council later advised the Whittlesea Review that councillors had closed the meeting to debate confidential items before reopening it at 10.40pm.

The Whittlesea Review can reveal that Cr Lalios listened to the tape last Friday and she alleges that no suspension of standing orders was given by the mayor.

“The minutes on page 119 are a fabrication.  I am shocked that council would be given minutes that are incorrect,” Cr Lalios said.

“This appears to be a cover up at the highest level.

“The process of producing and adopting the minutes has been corrupted and this needs to be fixed immediately.

“I will be taking steps to ensure that the minutes reflect the accurate happenings of council meetings and seeking advice from the Minister’s office and Local Government Victoria.”

Cr Kirkham also said he is considering referring the matter for investigation.

The Whittlesea Review was denied access to the tape with a council spokesperson commenting there is no provision for members of the public to listen to the tape as the recording is for staff to produce the minutes.

A Freedom of Information request has been submitted by the Whittlesea Review in an attempt to obtain the tapes.