When Queensland’s Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) asked Gold Coast City Council (GCCC) ratepayers to tell them what they thought of their council they did not pull any punches, labelling it “secretive”, “rude and insulting” and claiming it was “like dealing with the mafia.”
The OIC has been investigating whether the council does enough to supply information to its ratepayers and whether it complies with the Right to Information Act 2009 and the Right to Privacy Act 2009.
An OIC spokesperson said the review was “not as a result of any particular issue or complaint” about the council but was part of the Office’s annual compliance reviews.
Most of the published responses on OIC’s website were excoriating and many had part of them “removed by moderator” because they named (and potentially defamed) specific councillors or council staff.
One resident complained that a neighbour had set up a “party house” and said they had to put up with “five lots of neighbours and up to 40 to 50 people per week.” The resident claimed the council had let the party house go unchecked, despite complaints being made about it. Only a change in the law ended their three-year nightmare.
The complaint on the OIC’s website said: “It was obvious to us that there was a definite change in the use of the property from residential into commercial, yet we received no information on it whatsoever … no planning proposal board was erected, no objections called for.”
The angry resident added: “It is the most secretive, worst planned and worst run city by far.”
Another resident said the council’s communication with the public was “condescending, patronising and arrogant” and alleged that the council conducted many of dealings behind closed doors.
“I remain disgusted at the manner in which the Council replies to the public,” the comment said. “It does not border on rude and insulting, it actually is rude and insulting.
“[They] decide when they have had enough of your questions and they decide when to ignore you. I feel that there is a culture of secrecy within this council and they have no understanding of how to ensure that they are acting in a credible and transparent manner.”
Asked for comment a GCCC spokesperson said: “Council will await the official report from the Office of the Information Commissioner regarding the 19 complaints made before making comment. The City of Gold Coast has a population of 540,000 people.”
Another resident criticised the council’s allocation of public arts funding and said they had experienced “endless frustrations” dealing with the council.
“My experience in working with the GCCC and its councillors is very much like dealing with the Mafia,” the resident said.
“As long as you keep quiet on what you see or hear all is good … as long as you don’t complain about decisions which are made quietly behind closed doors, then you will be in the good books.
“Dealing with GCCC is an obfuscating experience.”
Gold Coast City Council Residents have also complained that their previous attempts to comment on council business have been shut down on social media and their comments deleted on GCCC Mayor Tom Tate’s Facebook page.
There is even a Facebook group dedicated to all the people who Mr Tate has banned from making comments on his Facebook page called “Tom Tate banned me.”
One disillusioned ratepayer alleged that their letters were ignored and council meetings were kept secret.
“The sessions of council chambers available for viewing on web cam are frequently closed. What is it that a local council or its members are hiding about their business?
“In short, it is very difficult to access anything in the way of a response from the Gold Coast City Council by way of direct contact, giving one a sense of being treated with contempt!”
Other allegations published on OIC’s website included:
• Unlawful businesses – including a massage parlour- allowed to be run from residential properties, despite ratepayers’ complaints
• Right to Information requests took a long time and much of the information blacked out
• Information requests met with resistance
• Letters, emails and phone calls ignored or received a slapdash response
• Long delays publishing minutes of committee meetings
• Development application documents not made available in time
An OIC spokesperson said that about 40 members of the public had provided feedback – not all of it relevant to the subject of the inquiry – and that not all of it would be made public.
“A response of approximately 40 is proportionate to similar reviews when taking population into account,” the spokesperson said.
“The report will contribute to an overall assessment of the Council of the City of Gold Coast’s implementation of obligations under the RTI Act and IP Act.”
The review is in its final stages and expected to be tabled in Parliament by early 2016. There will be a follow-up review and report, probably around 12 months after the original review was tabled.
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