Third party to review changes to development contributions from councillors’ relatives

Councillors or those with a relationship to a councillor who are looking to reduce their council fees will now undergo scrutiny by a third party.

Councillor Stephen Lawrence was behind the change. It will ensure any development application where a councillor or relative wants a reduction in developer contributions is first reviewed by an independent panel before it is determined at council.

The review committee will include the Dubbo Regional Council’s Chief Executive Officer, the internal ombudsman and the planning and environment director.

Cr Lawrence said the initiative was sparked by a reduction in developer contributions from 2015. At the time, Dubbo City Council reduced Section 94 Contributions at Flip Out from $147,584 to $299. The business was owned by a councillor’s son.

Cr Lawrence said the new policy would show the public the decisions made by the council were not influenced by councillors’ relationships. It would also allow the councillors, or their relatives, to submit applications for changes to developer contributions without fear the vote from councillors would be seen as biased, he said.

It didn’t sit right with me when I was a member of the last council and this went through, not because of any reality issues but because of the perception.

Ben Shields

It’s all part of the changes council has made to be more transparent, including web streaming meetings.

“I don’t think there could be any question that we are now the most transparent council in the local government area,” Cr Lawrence said.

Mayor Ben Shields said he wanted the public to have confidence in the decisions council was making.

“It didn’t sit right with me when I was a member of the last council and this went through, not because of any reality issues but because of the perception. Sometimes perceptions do more damage than reality,” Cr Shields said.

“I was quite surprised at the time it did go through without any serious questioning. But it was something that hung over that council for months, if not years.”