Gag rule frustrates councillor

A decision to restrict Colac Otway Shire councillors from expressing their personal opinions on council issues has frustrated residents and a councillor who voted against the media ban.

The council voted six-to-one in favour of a revised councillor code of conduct last week which continues to prevent councillors from expressing their views on council-related issues through the media or on social media unless they obtain mayoral permission.

The former council introduced the new media rule last year but the new council elected in October had an opportunity to overturn the restriction and follow other Victorian councils which respect councillors’ rights to express independent views through the media as long as they make it clear it is their opinion and not the view of the council.

Cr Chris Smith, who voted against the revised code and is yet to sign the code document, said he was disappointed with the result and the council’s reasoning behind the decision to maintain the media ban.

“Quite clearly the code of conduct does restrict our community’s opportunity to know how our councillors think and it does affect the openness and transparency of council,” Cr Smith said.

“I fully accept the mayor should speak for the council but I don’t agree the personal views of councillors should be stifled, otherwise how does our community know how their elected representative is thinking?

“I do support councillors having a code of conduct but I don’t see how these additions serve our community; they may serve the organisation but we were elected to serve the community.

“I was disappointed with the result because this could have been a chance for the new council to make changes; and I would have completely supported the revised code if we followed the MAV model.”

Colac Residents and Ratepayers Association spokesman Leigh Barrett and former Colac Shire councillor Alan Billing also believe the council should have followed the Municipal Association of Victoria’s model councillor code of conduct, which is similar
to codes adopted by other councils.

The MAV’s model suggests councillor codes state “we acknowledge that individual councillors are entitled to express their personal opinions through the media.

Where we choose to do so, we will make it clear that such comment is a personal view and does not represent the position of council. We undertake to ensure that any such comment is devoid of comments that could reasonably be construed as being derogatory, offensive or insulting to any person.”

For the full story see today’s Colac Herald.

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2 Responses to “Gag rule frustrates councillor”

  1. Tracey James

    has per normal you talk to the one and only councilor that has a problem with this all other councilors have voted in favor of the ban but no you talk to the one who wants to hold this shire from achieving is best out comes. I am one dishearten member of the community that is sick of the negativity to COS

    • David McKenzie

      Cr Smith is yet to sign the code of conduct. All other councillors have signed it, which restricts them from commenting publicly on such issues. We have already reported what some other councillors said about the code during last week’s council meeting, but they are no longer able to make statements on it outside meetings because of the code they signed. We would love to be able to report the views of a range of councillors, however the code of conduct restricts this from happening.
      The public has a right to know that there are more opinions than the approved council line.