They?re back after a bad year

By YVONNE McLEAN

THE Gold Coast City Council is back to work after what several members have publicly declared their year of annus horribilis.

Committee meetings were held this week and on Monday the first coordination committee takes place and on Monday, the first full meeting for 2006.

But still hanging over members' heads, post annus horribilis, is the report on the findings of the 2005 CMC probe into any impropriety concerning developer-funded election campaigns of some councillors.

There is an abiding confidence among councillors that the CMC report will recommend legislative changes to rules and regulations affecting all local authorities in the state.

However, there are hopes among councillors that last year's spate of personal attacks in the chamber, the 'them and us' attitude will end in real democratic debate - in argument, not acrimony.

A new Code of Conduct with bite is welcomed, but there are concerns as expressed by Cr Daphne McDonald, that the new code will not succeed unless it includes a truly independent arbitrator to assess unbecoming behaviour.

"This will be the crux of the code's success," she said.

The Queensland Government has given local councils until March 1 this year to put their Code of Conduct in place. Councils may adopt the Government's local council code, or their own, which must abide by most Government rules.

The Government code includes: integrity of local Government, appropriate use of information by councillors, transparency and scrutiny and appropriate use of entitlements.

Ethics, standard of behaviour, respect, dignity, the rule that no councillor may intimidate another or cause harassment, standout in this 18-page document.

But one rule has met with opposition from several councillors because they claim it would be impossible to uphold. That is the code that councillors do not meet with development applicants to discuss an application unless the meeting is sanctioned by council in advance and has a council officer in attendance.

Council's planning committee chairman, Cr Ted Shepherd, said this rule might apply to smaller councils, but would be impossible for the Gold Coast with its huge development agendas and number of development applications.

"Council practises an openness with development applications. We work to a lot of red tape. Pre-lodgement of a development application, there may be a time when an applicant wants some advice from the division councillor - at such times, having an officer there would be a waste of his or her time," he said.

Cr McDonald also said a councillor was fully aware of the need to call in a professional planning officer without having to obey the code.

"Councillors are fully aware that we do not have the training to pass opinions when a developer seeks them from us," she said.

"We can merely give basic advice, and then on small applications."

However, Cr Christine Robbins said the Government's rule on talks with developers pinned a 'baby-sitter' badge on the officer who could be called in for nothing but a waste of time.

"I get many calls from erstwhile developers, including mums and dads who want to put an extension on their home.

"Do I say, 'hang on, I can't speak with you until there's an officer listening in'," she asked.



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