Council tackles major shake-ups

By Julian Lehnert

The North Burnett Regional Council’s monthly general meeting in November saw sweeping changes introduced to the local government organisation, including major shake-ups in its leadership, as Council faces the departure of both its Mayor and CEO at the end of the year.

The meeting in Biggenden on 24 November, which was attended by all councillors, started off with a declaration by Mayor Rachel Chambers, in which she declared her Council’s opposition to the State Government’s proposed coronavirus mandate set to come into effect later this month (more on page 6).

Councillors also voted on a new confidentiality policy, which will see information concerning the LGO closely scrutinised going forward.

“Council operates in an environment of public accountability in which it seeks to inform the public of issues under consideration and the nature of decisions made by Council,“ the report on the policy stated.

“Therefore, information should ordinarily be released to the public unless there are compelling reasons which indicate that this is not in the public interest or such release is prevented by legislation.

“At the same time, Council is conscious of the need to handle Council information in a way that promotes and maintains the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of the local government,“ it went on.

The proposal included a non-exhaustive list of 15 items covered by the policy, mentioning information given in confidence, information concerning legal advice, and private information like names and addresses.

Special mention was given to “[a]ny information designated as confidential by the Chief Executive Officer, until such time as Council has resolved that the Chief Executive Officer’s confidentiality designation should be removed.“

The policy will reportedly apply to any person who is or has been a councillor, council staff or volunteer, even applying to contractors and their employees; a breach may result in disciplinary action including referral to external investigatory agencies.

“There are a number of laws which require the Council to make available information to members of the public and other government agencies,“ the policy’s report stated.

“The Council will fully comply with its obligations under those laws.

“If there are any doubts as to whether the information is considered to be confidential, the

Councillor or employee is to act on the assumption that it is confidential until the doubt is resolved by the Chief Executive Officer or by Council Resolution,“ it went on.

“Failure to maintain the confidentiality of information may expose an individual, a business and/or the Council to loss. This ranges from damage to reputation, to identify theft and fraud, and potentially to physical harm,“ the report stated, adding that security breaches carry severe risks for privacy and Council operations.

“Council cannot always know in advance which information, if released may cause a negative outcome, therefore, to minimise risks to the Council and the community, Council will preserve the confidentiality of information to the fullest extent possible,“ the report stated.

After the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting, a Council spokesperson assuaged fears that the policy may see inconvenient or undesirable information redacted to preserve the LGO’s public image.

“This policy was introduced to ensure that we are fulfilling our obligations under the Local Government on the data that we collect from people and ensuring we have a policy in place defining what is classed as confidential information to reduce confusion for staff and councillors,“ the spokesperson said.

“It is not intended to impact the transparency of information sharing to the media or community. “We have elected members who have driven a transparency campaign in this council to ensure that we are sharing everything we can with community, and when I compare our website and social media pages to other councils, we share a lot more information than the average council.

“So, no fear – this policy will not change the information that we provide to the media, but will hold us accountable should we provide information that we shouldn’t have,“ they added.

Councillors also voted on a variety of other policies at the 24 November meeting.

NBRC staff resolved a new biosecurity program for the region, as the current scheme is set to expire on 28 January, 2022; the new program covers the period from 31 January 2022 to 27 January 2023 and lists over 50 species of plants and animals that will be contained, eradicated or restricted in the region.

The meeting also saw changes lodged to Council’s waste fees and charges, with four sections having their fees lowered by $10 each; in response to community feedback, several other sections also had their respective wording made clearer.

“Since implementation in October 2021, Waste Attendants, Council Staff and Councillors have received a range of feedback from the community regarding the adopted fees and the confusion that it creates,“ Council’s report on the matter read.

“This report seeks to amend the fees and charges to reflect Council’s intent of providing a level of free waste disposal as we transition to a user pays methodology for our Waste Management Facilities, which is in line with many of our surrounding Local Government Areas.“

Further revisions were made to Council’s road maintenance program, which saw the region split into nine equal operational grading patrol zones, which will be serviced by a fleet of 11 graders via a “light maintenance grade methodology alongside a revised heavy formation grading regime on selected roads.“

Lastly, Councillors voted on the creation of the Wide Bay Burnett Urban Water Alliance as well as further commitments to drought management in the region.

The meeting ended with the shock resignation of Council’s CEO, Rachel Cooper (more on page 4), who decided to end her two-year tenure following Mayor Rachel Chambers’ announcment to leave the LGO in September.