The Independent Assessor: Education over investigation
With the Queensland Government Independent Assessor, Kathleen Florian
I want to thank councils for their sincere welcome since I started in this role as the Independent Assessor.
I have met many very genuine councillors who are doing their best for their communities and I want to reassure you that while my role is to ensure that councillors who would commit misconduct are held to account, I am also here to support councillors who are trying to do the right thing.
It is why I have brought together a highly skilled and experienced team, who have been selected because they are reasonable, balanced and approachable.
Charles Kohn is the Deputy Independent Assessor. Charles comes to the OIA from leading the Crime and Corruption Commission’s high-profile Operation Windage, which focused on council corruption and organised crime in local government.
He heads a team of specialist investigators and lawyers. The majority of the investigators have a policing background but also have experience in disciplinary investigations context, financial investigations, investigation training delivery and high priority crime targeting and management, plus all the operational skills of police detectives.
The legislation gives our investigations into councillor complaints new powers, and that includes seizing documents and compelling councillors to attend interviews, with penalties for non-compliance.
Our legal team works closely with the investigations team. Our legal team are responsible for progressing matters to the Councillor Conduct Tribunal and prosecuting offences under the Local Government Act in the Magistrates Court.
Their experience includes the Crime and Corruption Commission, in-house legal for a local government, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and Legal Aid Queensland.
If you have any concerns or questions about a matter I encourage you to speak to the OIA contact officer that your complaint or investigation has been allocated to.
The OIA has the power to charge people who make vexatious, frivolous or complaints not in good faith. There are now statutory protections against reprisal and the Office is able to initiate our own investigations and prosecute statutory offences in the Magistrates Court.
In our first three months, the Office of the Independent Assessor received more than 500 councillor complaints and we have been working hard to effectively and efficiently assess, and where necessary, prioritise and investigate such a large volume of complaints.
A key strategy to address the number of investigations being undertaken is offering councillors a fast-track option to resolve matters if the councillors agree with the complaint allegation.
With this option, we will expedite the matter to the Councillor Conduct Tribunal with as little cost and formality as possible and this early co-operation is something that the Councillor Conduct Tribunal can take into account in determining what sanction may be appropriate.
Our second key strategy is to prevent complaints being made through education. It is a central function of this Office to offer councillors training and information.
I have partnered with the LGAQ to develop social media guidelines to assist councillors manage their social media presence after early analysis of complaints confirmed it was a growing issue.
The OIA has also partnered with the Queensland Integrity Commissioner, Dr Nikola Stephaov, to produce guidelines and council meeting aids on how to manage conflicts of interest and material person interests.
I have made it clear that if you follow these conflict of interest guides and meeting aids in good faith, and can show that, then it will not be in the public interest to prosecute a councillor.
The Integrity Commissioner and I have also been travelling to community minded councils to present and workshop how to manage conflicts of interest and material personal interests using these guidelines.
I welcome future invitations from councils who feel that they need our help in this area, because I would rather educate than investigate.
Kathleen Florian, Independent Assessor
Office of the Independent Assessor
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Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006
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