Closed meetings above board: Middlemiss

A councillor is adamant Latrobe City has followed the strict letter of the law, despite being labelled the state’s most secretive council.

Councillor Graeme Middlemiss has asked council officers to compile a report listing all decisions made in closed sessions over the past two years, to be tabled at the next public meeting.

His move comes after an announcement earlier this month that Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass would investigate the transparency of all Victorian councils.

He said the council report should show ratepayers Latrobe City was not a secretive local government, but to the contrary it publicly listed all decisions made – whether in confidence or in open sessions.

“What I’m concerned about is we’re being set up by this proposed Ombudsman inquiry,” Cr Middlemiss said.

“I’m certain Latrobe City decides no more items in closed sittings than any other council in Victoria.

“I’m also certain Latrobe City follows the strict letter of the law, the difference being Latrobe City makes public what it is doing, but other councils do not.”

The State Government’s ‘Know Your Council’ website shows Latrobe City made 47.1 per cent of its decisions in meetings closed to the public in the 2014/15 financial year.

This is compared with an average of 12.2 per cent among all Victorian councils.

Cr Middlemiss dismissed that figure, suggesting other local governments hid their in-confidence decisions in sub-committees or other areas, rather than discussing them in closed council meetings.

He said most of the decisions Latrobe City made privately were about confidential contractual matters, recovering debts or deciding which tender to award to whom.

“We believe it will be unfair for those details to be made public, particularly to the competitors,” Cr Middlemiss said.

Cr Middlemiss gained the full support of his fellow councillors when he put forward the motion at last week’s council meeting.

The report will list every matter considered in a Latrobe City closed session since 2014, along with a justification as to why these were decided privately.

Cr Dale Harriman told The Express he hoped the report would place council’s decisions “in a better light”.

When asked to respond to Cr Middlemiss’ comments, a spokesman said the Victorian Ombudsman would not comment on ongoing investigations.

Latrobe City’s next ordinary council meeting is scheduled for Monday, 11 April.