Cast your votes for accountability

The Murray Bridge council chambers. Photo: File.
The Murray Bridge council chambers. Photo: File.

Clem Schubert was right.

Nobody really reads council agendas except for councillors, staff and the handful of diehards who take an interest in such stuff.

That is one of the reasons local media is important.

We take a look at these things, attend meetings and take notes, so you don't have to.

As this columnist told members of the Tailem Bend Rotary Club on Monday night, when they were kind enough to invite him along as a guest speaker: we must go where our audience members can't, ask questions of powerful people on their behalf, and use our unique perspective to put isolated events in the broad context of history, like placing stars in the night sky (if you want to be all romantic about it).

No-one who reads the story on page three of today's issue may specifically care that the Murray Bridge council asked members of the public to leave the chamber while they discussed their CEO's latest performance review in whatever month of last year, and fair enough.

But pull out the files, crunch the numbers, and the single incidents develop into a pattern.

What interests us is the number of times – 22 – Murray Bridge's councillors decided that keeping their discussions open to the public "would, on balance, be contrary to the public interest".

We are not for a moment alleging that there is anything sinister going on at any of our local councils.

After all, the decision to go into confidence is essentially a judgement call made by staff and councillors on a case-by-case basis, and every situation is different.

Every one of those 22 instances may have been well justified – we cannot know, since we were not in the room or party to the discussions.

There may have been another 22 times, or 42, or 82, they chose to err on the side of accountability and keep everything out in the open.

We simply urge our councillors not to rubber-stamp suggestions they go into confidence, and remind them to keep considering whether doing so is essential each time.

Big principles are at stake in such insignificant-seeming actions.

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