New Southern Downs Regional Council CEO David Keenan
New Southern Downs Regional Council CEO David Keenan jayden Brown

CEO backs improved council transparency

AFTER copping criticism for the confidentiality of the tourism merger plan, Southern Downs Regional Council has taken an unprecedented step towards greater transparency at meetings.

Councillors took a rare move voting to change three items marked as confidential to public debate at a meeting in Stanthorpe yesterday.

The decision follows strong disapproval surrounding the council's confidential handling of the Tourism Transition Reference Group's report.

Deputy Mayor Ross Bartley raised the issue of confidential council discussions, expressing concerns at the growing number of items being moved to sessions 'in-camera'.

"Our last general meeting had at least 50% of items in confidential," he said.

"I know we give reasons and cover all that at the top but it's fairly vague.

"Budgetary considerations are the main reason but most items we discuss in this chamber relate to the budget - I don't think it's a reasonable excuse in some ways."

Currently state legislation allows local councils to discuss items confidentially at meetings, away from the eye of the public and media, wherever legal or personal issues are raised.

Cr Bartley used an incident that occurred at a public meeting about the tourism merger to refer to public sentiment about the confidentiality of council discussions.

"Mr Mayor you were recently asked at a public meeting as to why we made the tourism report confidential?" he said.

"If you keep the intrigue out of council, people will have more trust."

Mayor Peter Blundell, who has previously defended the council's use of confidential sessions, said he didn't disagree with Cr Bartley's views. "We need to review each item - we need to keep it (confidential) to a minimum as much as possible," he said.

"The reason the tourism report was confidential was as per the request of the chair of the review committee."

Cr Jamie Mackenzie moved a resolution to remove in-camera discussion on parks rationalisation, maintenance of council's sporting fields and proposed freehold lease to community organisations from the confidential session. There was unanimous support from councillors for bringing the items to public debate, including from Cr Meiklejohn.

"If there's something of note we don't think should be in-camera we should say so," he said.

"Each time something goes into camera council makes these choices."

CEO David Keenan yesterday revealed he was reviewing with the department how to approach confidential items.

"This is part of improving the meeting process and reviewing council business as part of greater transparency," he said.

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