Monday 1 June 2009

Caesar judging Caesar

The last six weeks has seen the Cairns Regional Council embroiled in the under-mining of Val Schier and her role as Mayor.

As ratepayers, we have paid - several thousand dollars a day for a QC. “It will be a tidy sum, I imagine,” Deputy Mayor Margaret Cochrane said. “It is ratepayers' money and I think that probably is something that should be made public.”

The bottom line is that after this long horrible messy incident, sparked by disloyality and lack of professionalism to carry out their Councillors’ duties, the public are screaming out for an open and transparent Council.

Former councillor Ross Parisi, and Cairns
Blog columnist, says that the CEO should step aside from the process completely, as he himself is one of those investigated in the report.

I am not in the least concerned about the payment of $250 for 1 hour of the Mayor been available to listeners for interrogation on the John Mackenzie talk back show. If this was advertising for the Mayor to go on radio, and it wasn’t, this would have been quite a good deal for the ratepayers of Cairns.

Considering the hiatus that existed between Val and John, it was obvious during the first interview following Val’s election in 2008, John was nevertheless prepared to have Val continue the ritual of the weekly chat as was the case with former Mayor Kevin Byrne.

However, it was Val that hesitated and did not want to appear weekly, for reasons which I will not go into here. Any subsequent reproach by Val to turn the clock back 15 months and do a weekly appearance was going to come at a price.

The Machiavellian politics and disloyalty that has resulted from this scenario has been ventilated by scorned Councillor and Staff with mischievous and vindictive personal agendas. It appears to me that the plot to embarrass the Mayor may stems from the top and near top of the Staff chain which makes it ever more treacherous.

The CEO of the Cairns Regional Council is proposing that the Henry Report into the conduct of Councillors and Staff remain confidential and entombed forever, thereby overriding the Public Interest. This is abhorrent to every instinct in my body.

What I find abhorrent is that the CEO and his actions as confirmed by his own admission on the ABC Far North radio on Friday evening, that he himself forms part of the Henry Investigation, and yet the CEO proposes to do an executive report on the Henry report. A case of Caesar judging Caesar is created.

The CEO should not be preparing the Executive Report to the Cairns Regional Council.
Instead, if at all, the Council should this Wednesday be appointing an independent delegate of the CEO to prepare any Executive Report, as allowed for under the Local Government Act 1993

When this report is finally tabled for consideration, the CEO Briggs should leave the Council Chambers when the deliberations are taking place. This is because Briggs’, by his own admission on ABC Far North, forms part of the Investigator’s Report:

  • “I have had zero involvement in the process… The situation affects myself and the mayor and myself and a senior staff member.”
    Council CEO Noel Briggs, Friday 29th May, 2009 ABC Far North

For a democracy to function satisfactorily, justice not only has to be done, but as importantly, it must be seen to be done. The actions need to be transparent and must stand the test of scrutiny.

If breached, the fabric of our rule of law would be adversely compromised and the tenuous tenure of trust between Government and its people, would be questioned.

In this instance, the Council must at all times ensure that its integrity is not tarnished with accusations of a cover up. The appearance of arrogance must not prevail. It must override the intention of the CEO to keep the Report secret and move to make the Henry Report public.
For the purposes of clarity, following is the letter emailed to all Councillors. The operative parts are highlighted thus:

  • From: Noel Briggs
    Sent: Friday, 29 May 2009 10:55 AM
    Subject: Investigation


    Further to my
    email dated 28 May 2009, I have received a request to provide a full copy of Mr Henry SC's report to all councillors and to the public at large.

    As Chief Executive Officer of Council, I engaged Mr Henry SC to gather information and make findings concerning a small subset of issues which form part of a wider investigation being conducted by me.

    Mr Henry's report is confidential and contains information about, and statements made by, a number of employees of Council.

    Each employee who was part of Mr Henry's investigation was provided with an undertaking that any information or statements made by employees would remain strictly confidential and would not be made public at any time.

    Quite apart from the express undertakings which I made to each employee involved in the investigation, it would be inappropriate for me to disclose to Council (or indeed, the general public), confidential employee information which forms part of Mr Henry's report.

    In closed session at next week's Council meeting, I will be providing to all Councillors an executive summary of the report which has been prepared by Mr Henry.

    Mr Henry has ensured that the executive summary is framed in a way that not only maintains the confidence of the employees involved in the investigation, but provides findings in relation to the subset of issues which he was asked to investigate.

    I will also be providing a report prepared by me which reports completely on the Council's commercial arrangement with prime radio (4CA), as I have been asked to do.

    For the reasons outlined above, I will not be supplying a full copy of the report to any Councillors or any member of the public at any time.

    I am conscious of my obligations to employees and to Council and in line with those responsibilities and duties, my position will not change in relation to the disclosure of the report.

    I will shortly be forwarding a notice of meeting in accordance with my email dated 28 May 2009.

    Noel Briggs
    Chief Executive Officer
    Cairns Regional Council

The tenor of the above letter sent to Councillors under the CEO's signature, is disturbing and couched in words that are intended to protect the anonymity of staff and Councillors who were interviewed and may yet be the subject of maladministration.

If one was to extend the CEO’s argument of anonymity it would then follow that any errant Councillor, staff would be immune from further action because it may embarrass them. If this is the case, it is preposterous, untenable and a perverting the course of justice.

Furthermore, I personally find it astonishing that the Henry Report, and the evidence contained therein, was obtained without the interviewee been under Oath, will not even be given to the Councillors for their perusal. They will have to accept the word of a CEO who quite possibly was one of those interviewed.

Is it because the CEO does not trust the Councillors for whatever reason? If this is the case, then what hope do we have of this administration functioning in the interest of its people.

This Wednesday the 3rd of June, if the Mayor and Councillors are to retain any semblance of propriety in the pursuit of justice, they must:

  • move to have the Henry Report received and tabled,

  • move that it be made public and circulated to Councillors and the media,

  • move that an Independent delegate of the CEO prepare an Executive summary.

  • move that it be referred to the Department of Local Government for their perusal and advice,

  • determine whether the Henry Report’s evidence is flawed due to the fact that the evidence was not taken under Oath.

The Cairns and the greater region, will be keenly interested in the outcome of this matter. If Councillors and staff are to fall on their swords, then so be it. The residents are after firm leadership and governance without fear or favour.

The ball is firmly in the court of the Mayor and the Councillors of the Cairns Regional Council. Not the CEO.


Colin Who Dares, Edmonton said...

This is unbelievable ,that someone that may be involved in this incident against the mayor , is the very person deciding who sees the report

Have I moved to hillbilly heaven or what !

As I expressed to a councillor on saturday , how the report cannot be released to council/public with the names blanked to protect sources is beyond me !

Who decided that the ceo is the trusted one to protect privacy instead of the "oath bound" elected councillors?

As a matter of fact for no reason other than I wanted the elected mayor to be on "macca" , to let everyone praise or bag her in the same fashion as KB enjoyed on air with his obvious mate "macca".
But after numerous arguments on air on "macca" I gave up .

Even when we marched in the bananna rally and went past the "villa" there was KB and macca sitting on the royal table for all to see !

I did have an email from high up saying val knew staff were trying to get her on "macca" and it in no way implied they were paying to get her on.

So I am sure she is telling the truth in saying she was NOT aware payement was being made.

If anyone can tell me how to recover fron double delete on incrediamail I can provide proof !

nocturnal congress said...

Briggs can do this because of the inadequacies in the legislation corporatising councils. Moreover it is typical CEO behaviour.

Not Happy Marg said...

Didn't take Margaret Chochrane long to ruffle the fur and put out the claws. She is going to squeeze as much catpiss out of this as she can.

Factfinder said...

I agree nocturnal congress. Your and other's comments prompted me to read (at least the relevant sections of) the Local Government Act 1993. What a flawed piece of work that is! It explains very clearly to me though why we are in this mess! And I understand now, why Noel can get away with it.

As I see it, this Act basically degrades the elected mayor to a queen, the councillors to lobbyists, whilst the NON-ELECTED CEO pulls all the strings of the otherwise unbridled civil servants.


Alison Alloway said...

Yes, Factfinder. In examining this mess it is pertinent to look at WHY people behave as they do and what mechanisms PERMIT them to.
This has been my line of thought all the way through. The fact is corporatisation is rapidly causing problems in many different areas.
Mike's investigatory journalism here with the "Cash for Comment" issue is exposing just a very tiny chip of a huge iceberg of trouble.

S. Northy said...

"....Mr Henry has ensured that the executive summary is framed in a way that not only maintains the confidence of the employees involved in the investigation, but provides findings in relation to the subset of issues which he was asked to investigate...".

Here Briggs is trying to give authority for the watered down, censored version to the QC. What a weasel!!