Cr Mayne

Governance reforms at City of Melbourne

November 4, 2014

Here are some links to governance reforms at City of Melbourne over the past two years.

A public commitment to transparency
After 6 months of intense work immediately after the 2012 election, we adopted this 4 year council plan which included key commitments to transparency in goal 8 starting on page 32, including that we strive to be "one of the most transparent councils in Australia". This has underpinned all that has followed, including initiatives such as Melbourne's open data platform.

Audio of council meetings and public questions
As occurred at Manningham, supported the introduction of audio archives of council and committee meetings being available, along with an increased opportunity for public questions at committee. See this report plus audio motion from Cr Leppert.

Melbourne rejoined peak body
After three years out in the cold, proposed this motion immediately after being elected whereby City of Melbourne re-joined our sector's peak body, the Municipal Association of Victoria. It was unanimously supported and Melbourne is no longer the odd council out.

More devolved power with decisions made in public
Supported a governance change where the full council, rather than the Lord Mayor, determined portfolio allocations.

Extension of time with senior management
Pushed for the extension of the weekly management briefing of councillors from 60 minutes to 90 minutes to allow more discussion on important issues.

Expanding the audit committee
Expanded the audit committee from 5 to 7 with the independents expanding from 3 to 4 and a 3rd councillor also joining.

Tenders determined in open sessions
Changed the default position on tenders to being done in open session rather than closed confidential sessions. This helped reduce the number of confidential items from almost 40% in the previous council to about 25% currently. See this example of a recent agenda with three public tender decisions.

Disclosure of full contract with state government land swap
Argued for maximum transparency in managing council's conflict of interest as a planning authority and successful bidder for a $76 million property adjacent to the Queen Victoria Market.

Unprecedented community panel advising on 10 year plan
Council is embarking on a world first community consultation process around our inaugural 10 year financial plan which John Brumby's former chief of staff Nicholas Rees summarised as follows in The Age recently.

Leveraging council's position in the state election
Suggested that council formally write to all parties in the state election on important matters, which resulted in this management report outlining 15 key issues.

A more transparent State Planning process
Persuaded the state Planning Minister to publicly release his departmental advice on 70 different major applications in the City of Melbourne where he was the responsible authority. See Crikey explanation.

Better disclosure of remuneration arrangements for senior officers
Here is the motion calling for reform and you can see the results on page 76 of the 2013-14 annual report.

Disclosure of City of Melbourne's lease register
The major new disclosure piece in the 2013-14 budget was achieved through this motion. See pages 129-134 of annual report. Also see this story in The Age.

Disclosure of major service contracts above $1 million
Here is the motion from February 2014 and here is the newly produced disclosure register.

Not too proud to learn from Sydney
Suggested and then participated in a two day visit to the City of Sydney to learn about a comparable capital city council. Was an invaluable exercise. See council report.

Pushed for higher developer contributions
After learning about Sydney's huge developer contributions revenues, won support for a request to the Minister for Melbourne to lifts its revenue from this source and requested public release of data which confirmed the low tax nature of Melbourne's regime.

Disclosure of 20 most valuable land and building valuations
See page 163 of the 2012-13 annual report.

Changes to board appointments process
Supported changes to the way directors are appointed to subsidiaries so that councillors would be less involved and the process more transparent. See council report.

Changes to expenses guidelines
Worked with officers on changes to these expenses guidelines which lowered the overall cost of expense claims to council.

Faster minutes and longer notice period of meetings for public
Moved this motion which provided greater certainty over agenda time tables, less late motions and faster minutes.

Officers must accompany councillors to meetings with developers
Whilst not a formal council resolution, secured internal agreement to a new planning protocol which requires a planning officer to attend any meeting between a councillor and a developer. See 3.7 in the updated Councillor Code of Conduct.

Don't clog up the agenda with mundane items of business
Ended the system where the mundane task of approving supplementary rates assessments was a separate item each month for committee to determine in open session. Here's the meeting where the change was made.

Reduced discretionary budget
Councillors were spending more than $500,000 a year from a discretionary budget, largely determined in confidential sessions. This is not good governance and has been cut to $300,000 per year.

Supporting unpopular State Government council governance reforms
When the sector was complaining about a range of State Government governance reforms, offered support and proposed additional reforms in this notice of motion.

Funding vehicle for Queen Victoria Market renewal
After the public announcement of a spend of up to $250m on the Queen Victoria Market, pushed for the establishment of a dedicated fund to provide some discipline and visibility around the funding challenge.

Online register of conflict of interest declarations
Seconded Cr Foster's proposal to disclose which issues councillors declare conflicts on.

Governance reforms at Manningham

Here are some links to disclosure reforms at Manningham as explained in a Mayne Report email edition in late 2012:

No other Victorian council has yet produced what Manningham did on page 110 of the 2011-12 annual report with specific disclosures around the entitlements, positions and contract terms of the 5 most senior officers. The sky hasn't fallen it since that appeared. Indeed, it sailed straight through to the keeper unnoticed in the wider world - until this missive.

Similarly, this recently published lease register disclosure on the Manningham website is also a first because it reveals the subsidised rental arrangements with all groups occupying council-owned facilities. There is no agenda around ending subsidies or evicting tenants, it's just appropriate that these arrangements involving public assets be disclosed to their owners - the public.

Manningham also took a big step forward over the past two years when it published an indicative 10 year capital works budget. Check out the 132 different projects or spending categories laid out from page 76 in Appendix D of this year's budget.

Once you tell the community what you own, who has access to it, on what terms and what council proposes to spend on it over 10 years, you can then have a far more informed debate with the public around the allocation of scarce capital and appropriate returns (not just financial) for the community.

For instance, wouldn't it have been a whole lot better if there had been more comprehensive public disclosure of coal mining leasing arrangements in NSW. At least we're now getting it thanks to ICAC.

The comprehensive Manningham at VCAT disclosure on the home page will also hopefully be rolled out at Melbourne but there is no huge immediate rush as this is a 4-year sentence and it will be important to get the detail right, bring officers and council colleagues along with each decision and avoid any unintended consequences or excessive new workloads.