Consultant to review Wollongong councillor briefing sessions

Wollongong councillor Vicki Curran.
Wollongong councillor Vicki Curran.

Wollongong City Council will employ an independent consultant to assess conduct at its confidential councillor briefing sessions after Cr Vicki Curran declared the meetings contrary to the principles of open government.

The independent Cr Curran found precious little support for her motion to convert the informal briefings into "committee of council" meetings, which would be subject to minutes-keeping, public agendas and open doors.

At Tuesday night's council meeting, only Cr Greg Petty gave support to the proposal, with numerous other councillors reacting angrily to Cr Curran's suggestion the briefings were being used to shore up numbers and gauge support for council actions.

Cr Colacino said he was "extremely angry" at the motion.

"I work extremely hard, ever since I got on this council, to be very clear about everything I do, everything I talk about," he said.

"I chose the Liberal Party because I believe in their morals and their ways of thinking, but it doesn't mean we [Liberal councillors] sit in briefings and say, let's bring down a motion because it's made by another group."

Cr Curran claims the sessions, which are often addressed by council staff and are designed to give councillors background on complex issues, "go beyond" their intended purpose.

"I get concerned when I'm told, 'we need a landing on this', at a briefing," Cr Curran told Tuesday's meeting.

"I get concerned when it is more than information sharing. I felt that I haven't had a fair voice at times ... I felt like I'd been bullied."

Cr Chris Connor questioned the costs involved in running the meetings if they were converted to more formal affairs with need for minute-taking and other staff services.

Also speaking against the motion, Cr Janice Kershaw praised the existing sessions and slammed as "very, very disappointing" Cr Curran's claims, published in the Mercury last week.

"[The claims] give the impression to the community that we were doing something wrong or underhanded, which we are not," she said.

Cr George Takacs acknowledged the existing briefing sessions had "some shortcomings".

His proposal to make agendas for briefing sessions publicly available, post-briefing, was supported by the majority of councillors.

Councillors also resolved to discuss options for improving briefing sessions at a future briefing session and gave majority support to Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery's variation to commission an independent external consultant on probity and compliance to assess the conduct of the briefing sessions to ensure they complied with the Local Government Act.

"I don't want any longer this innuendo that we are doing something illegal or [dishonest]," Cr Bradbery said.

Cr Petty made the lone supporting argument for Cr Curran's original motion.

"I don't think a briefing session is a briefing session; I think it's a madhouse," he said.

"It's not chaired properly. People speak multiple times.

"Councillor Curran's on the right track."