The following motion was put forward to the Federation of Willoughby Progress Associations and adopted:
DRAFT LETTER TO COUNCIL
Requested action by Council:
That Council undertake a public review of any policy dealing with matters as outlined below.
At the recent meeting of the Federation of Willoughby Progress Associations it was carried that the Federation write to Council regarding perceived conflicts of interest with the process of handling applications/proposals from current and former members of Council staff and Councillors.
From time to time applications are submitted to Council where there may be a perceived conflict of interest. Such applications may be from current or past Council staff or Councilors. From a governance perspective, it is important that such matters are dealt with ‘at arms length’ and with a high level of transparency.
Council recently engaged with a Planning Proposal submitted by a company whose representatives were Council’s immediate past GM and Planning Director.
The current policy appears to be in such circumstances to engage external consultants to review the proposal. However, at the end of the day it is a Council Officer who makes the recommendation to Council and Councillors who have been extensively involved with the former staff who make the determination.
From a public perspective it seems like the application may be favourably (or otherwise) considered. Perhaps a scenario where the entire process is handled external to Council (e.g by another Council or ‘tribunal’ might be appropriate.
Council dealing with Personal Conflicts of Interest
- Name of Matter: Council Conflicts of Interest – Personal Matters
- Summary of Matter: From time to time applications are submitted to Council where there may be a perceived conflict of interest. Such applications may be from current or past Council staff or Councilors. From a governance perspective, it is important that such matters are dealt with ‘at arms length’ and with a high level of transparency.
- This matter is put forward by the Chatswood West Ward Progress Association
- Proposed Motions and Actions: That a letter be sent to Council and Councilors requesting a public review of any policy dealing with matters as outlined above.
- (and where it is proposed a letter be sent, a draft letter should also be included)
- Background and Discussion
- Why the matter has arisen/is put forward – Council recently engaged with a Planning Proposal submitted by a company whose representatives were Council’s immediate past GM and Planning Director.
- What the key issues are: The current policy appears to be in such circumstances to engage external consultants to review the proposal. However, at the end of the day it is a Council Officer who makes the recommendation to Council and Councillors who have been extensively involved with the former staff who make the determination.
- Why action should be considered: From a public perspective it seems like the application may be favourable (or otherwise) considered. Perhaps a scenario where the entire process is handled external to Council (e.g by another Council or ‘tribunal’ might be appropriate.
- Details of any legislation/Council decisions etc
- Where there are alternative views/perspectives, these should also be detailed: Please refer to details recently provided by Council’s Director in relation to this matter.
Response from Peter Conroy
Further to your recent inquiry, I have made additional inquiries with staff and can now advise you as follows:
- All Planning Proposals are reported to full Council for Council to resolve whether to proceed to Gateway/exhibition.
- If Council resolves to proceed to Gateway, the Planning Proposal is referred to the Department of Planning and Environment who may determine to issue Gateway or not. If a Gateway determination by the Department is not issued the matter cannot proceed any further.
- If Gateway is issued it proceeds to public exhibition.
- Following exhibition the Planning Proposal is reported back to Council. If Council resolves to proceed it is again forwarded to the Department who again may or may not decide to make the LEP change.
As you can see there are a number of checks and balances in the process
- Council Officers are required to report certain applications to Council for determination including:
– applications where Council is the applicant or involves Council property, other than changes of use or internal alterations to premises within a business zone;
– applications which, in the opinion of the General Manager, are sensitive or controversial and should be determined by Council, on the basis of (amongst other things) it involves a site rezoning.
Again there are checks and balances in the process.
Code of Conduct
Council Officers are also bound by the Council Code of Conduct which states:
4.14 How you manage a non-pecuniary conflict of interests will depend on whether or not it is significant.
4.15 As a general rule, a non-pecuniary conflict of interests will be significant where a matter does not raise a pecuniary interest but it involves:
- a) a relationship between a Council official and another person that is particularly close, for example, parent, grandparent, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, lineal descendant or adopted child of the person or of the person’s spouse, current or former
spouse or partner, de facto or other person living in the same household
- b) other relationships that are particularly close, such as friendships and business relationships. Closeness is defined by the nature of the friendship or business relationship, the frequency of contact and the duration of the friendship or relationship
- c) an affiliation between the Council official and an organisation, sporting body, club, corporation or association that is particularly strong.
4.18 If you are a member of staff of Council, the decision on which option should be taken to manage a non-pecuniary conflict of interests must be made in consultation with your manager.
In the case of the 688-692 Pacific Highway Planning Proposal
- In accordance with Council practice the planning Proposal was reported to the full Council.
- As senior staff at the proponent company (Aqualand) had previously held senior roles at Council and worked with Council staff the Planning Proposal was referred to independent consultants to undertake assessment to avoid any perceived conflict of interest. This included urban design advice (Kennedy and Associates) and overall planning assessment (Ingham Planning).
- The urban design advice was provided to Ingham Planning for consideration in their assessment of the scheme as a whole. As you will note form the report, Ingham Planning’s assessment did not concur entirely with the advice of Kennedy and Associates.
- The reports of Kennedy and Associates and Ingham Planning were forwarded to Council as an attachment to a Covering Report – prepared by Council Officer’s in accordance with Council’s Business Paper format. The recommendation in the Covering Report was the recommendation of Ingham Planning.
Other Planning Proposals submitted by Aqualand
Aqualand have also previously submitted a Planning Proposal for 31-35 Herbert St, St Leonards. An early assessment of this application by Council staff determined it was not worthy of support and was reported to Council on this basis.
A further application has now been lodged for 31-39 Herbert St. The initial assessment of this application is similar and it is likely to be reported in a similar manner.
These more recent applications have been dealt with under my direction as the Director of Planning and Infrastructure. I have no previous connection with Aqualand staff.
Future Development Applications and Planning Proposals by Aqualand
It is intended to treat any future application (whether Development Application or Planning Proposal) submitted by Aqualand in a similar manner namely:
- if an initial staff assessment indicates it is not worthy of support, it will be reported directly to Council
- if a more detailed assessment is required, it will be referred to Independent Consultants.
I hope you have found this information/explanation useful, if not please do not hesitate to contact me on 9777-7701