Media response - EM enquiry procedure

Published on 26 October 2021

Response to The Advertiser.

  • I've been reading the review into the EM enquiry system and am seeking a response to criticisms put by Onkaparinga Council Watch on their FB site. They seem to be most interested in the segregation of the mayor's email from public scrutiny, but I want to go on the news angle of the plan to refuse to answer questions from EMs if they are not considered important ("of strategic importance") or require too much work (‘substantial resourcing’). Is that a correct representation of the policy? I'm told the minutes represent the final version of what was voted for by the council. Is it true the Mayor used her deciding vote? 

Comments attributed to Jessica Tucker, Acting Director Corporate

The revised Elected Member Enquiry Procedure means we can continue providing information to elected members in connection with their functions or duties, within an agreed timeframe, while ensuring council’s resources are being used fairly, effectively and efficiently.

At times, this may mean that enquiries are referred back to the elected member for further clarification, and discussion as to whether a formal Notice of Motion at a Council or committee meeting would be more appropriate.

The final motion passed also confirmed that Mayor led enquiries will utilise the EM Enquiry procedure, ensuring the same transparency as enquiries from all elected members.

PLEASE NOTE - the final motion of agenda item 9.6 Elected Member Enquiry and Mayoral Correspondence was not passed on the Mayor’s casting vote. That was a previous amendment.

Details of the final motion that was passed can be found on page 9 of Council minutes available on our website.

ENDS

  • Follow-up questions: Are these statements true or false: EM questions now have to be of “strategic importance” but there is no direction about what that is. Pro forma responses developed by “senior management” show in some cases Councillors will be told to use the FoI system to answer their question, that they don’t need the information to do their job, that the question is not allowed because it criticises a staff member, or to refer to the last answer they got.

RESPONSE

1. EM questions now have to be of “strategic importance” but there is no direction about what that is.  

This is incorrect.

The revised and adopted by Council EM Enquiry Procedure (attached to the agenda report of 19 October Council Agenda) sets out the types of enquiries:

Here is the relevant part of the Procedure:

“The following enquiries/requests can be directed to EM Enquiry include but are not limited to:

  • Requests for information including:
    • General enquiries
    • Enquiries that assist Elected Members in performing their roles and responsibilities
    • Requests for information or complaints on behalf of residents
    • Escalated complaints on behalf of residents

2. Pro forma responses developed by “senior management” show in some cases Councillors will be told to use the FOI system to answer their question, that they don’t need the information to do their job, that the question is not allowed because it criticises a staff member, or to refer to the last answer they got.

The Pro Forma responses were developed by senior management as examples of proposed responses for out of scope enquiries. These were included in the independent reviewer’s report.

The EM Enquiry Procedure revised and adopted by Council states:

“Out of Scope Enquiries

The following types of enquiries, but not limited to, are considered out of scope for the purposes of EM Enquiry:

  • Requests for information not related to the role and responsibilities of Elected Members
  • Staff criticism/directions to staff
  • Seeking information on other Elected Members and/or criticism of other Elected Members
  • Repeat EM Enquiries

Such enquiries will receive a response from the relevant Manager that will provide an explanation on why the enquiry is out of scope. This will ensure equity and an efficient use of resources.

Substantial Resources

Managers, upon considering an EM Enquiry, may determine that a response to the enquiry would require substantial resources to answer. Under such circumstances, the manager will advise the submitting Elected Member that the request is better dealt with by way of a Notice of Motion to Council.”

ENDS