Wearing the cost of complaining

Tweed council chambers, Murwillumbah
Tweed council chambers, Murwillumbah

TWEED Shire Council has spent at least four times as much on code of conduct complaints as any other Northern Rivers council and nearly three times the average of similarly sized NSW councils.

The council's code of conduct bill was $40,000 between September 1, 2012 and August 2013.

The money was spent on 11 complaints made by and against undisclosed parties for reasons that are not revealed, figures released by the Office of Local Government show.

The figures only cover those complaints made against councillors and the general manager without distinguishing how many, if at all, were made against what parties.

They do not cover complaints against council staff, which are not required to be publicly released.

Of the comparatively sized councils, Shoalhaven had to deal with the highest number of code of conduct complaints, 19, but spent only $37,280 doing so.

Coffs Harbour had the second highest number with 17, which cost only $14,175.

Locally Lismore spent $10,000 on one complaint while Byron Shire racked up $6500 on four complaints.

Nine of the 11 Tweed complaints did not proceed beyond the preliminary assessment stage.

The figures, which are mandatory for councils to report, are the only real indicator of what goes on behind closed doors with the secretive code of conduct complaints.

Under State Government rules councillors, staff and even the Office, are not permitted to publicly comment on such matters.

Most complaints don't progress beyond the initial assessment, but it's not publicly revealed why.

They appear to simply disappear behind closed doors and the public is expected to trust council properly assessed it.

This is to stop reputations being unfairly damaged, but it is also a situation which lacks transparency and certainly in Tweed Shire has bred mistrust.

The council's general manager Troy Green said residents should take comfort from the fact that only two of the complaints were shown to have any basis.

Mr Green said that during the period the council saved money by being under a Special Complaints Management Arrangement with the Office.

"The figure would have been comparatively higher if matters had to have been referred to members of Council's Code of Conduct Panel or if dealt with by the Complaints Co-ordinator," Mr Green said.

"All complaints made are assessed, be they vexatious or otherwise and they come with a cost."

Many ratepayers will no doubt be wondering how many potholes $40,000 could fix.

Topics:  tweed heads tweed shire council

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