The report from the independent investigator (Pinnacle Integrity) responsible for auditing the management of past code of conduct complaints by Council from 2017 through until 2021 has been approved for public released in a redacted format. The redacted format is required to ensure that Council and Councillors do not breach their obligations under the Code of Conduct and the Procedures, as well as the Local Government Act and any other applicable parameters or guidelines.
In a commitment to provide assurance and transparency to the community that a review process of past code of conduct complaints has been undertaken, Council sought legal advice from a panel of legal specialists, and formal advice from Office of Local Government (OLG) in regard to releasing the Independent Investigator’s report and recommendations.
Similarly, the report’s eight recommendations (made by the investigator) have been acknowledged and accepted by Dubbo Regional Council (DRC) with many reforms either well under way or in the process of being implemented.
Recommendations, and subsequent action by Council, includes:
Council adopts a checklist for the initial triage of Code of Conduct complaints.
Pinnacle Integrity provided Council with an example of a triage system, which Council is finalising for use in its code of conduct processes.
Council ensures Code of Conduct complaints are dealt with only by authorised persons.
Code of conduct complaints regarding Councillors are processed by the CEO and the Complaints Coordinator (Executive Manager Governance and Internal Control), in accordance with the Code of Conduct and the Procedure for the Administration of the Code of Conduct. Both officers regularly discuss and seek advice from the Office of Local Government, and each complaint suitable for investigation is referred to an external conduct reviewer.
The role of the Internal Ombudsman is limited to that permitted by the Procedures.
The position of the Internal Ombudsman works within the Code of Conduct and the Procedures for the Administration of the Code of Conduct. The role reports to the Executive Manager Governance and internal Control, and has a direct avenue for reporting to the CEO.
Council ensures that Preliminary Assessments and investigations are not carried out by any person directly employed by Council.
All preliminary assessments and investigations are carried out by external conduct reviewers. Prior to December 2020, Council had a tender panel of external conduct reviewers. Now Council utilises the pre-approved state government resource for Probity Services Personnel which lists approved conduct reviewers.
Council undertakes additional training of Council staff as to the recording, triage, preliminary assessment, investigation and resolution stages of handling of Code of Conduct complaints.
Council has engaged Sinc Solutions, which is considered an industry leader in code of conduct investigations and training, to assist with a review of governance processes and delivery of training to senior staff. Training is expected to be delivered in November 2021.
Council provides a structured process through which Council staff can make a Code of Conduct complaint, including anonymously.
As with the above item, Council has engaged a consultant to assist with the best approach on this recommendation.
Council reinforces the obligation of Councillors and Council staff not to engage in inappropriate interactions in relation to Council business (including complaint handling).
Council reviewed its Councillor and Staff Interaction Policy in July this year, with the results of public exhibition being reported to Council in the next ordinary meeting. The induction program for new staff includes a session on code of conduct, along with regular refresher training for staff.
Where inappropriate interactions are reported, deal with those matters as alleged serious breaches of Council’s Code of Conduct.
Allegations of inappropriate interactions are taken very seriously and the CEO has worked towards empowering staff to feel confident in reporting such conduct.
The purpose of this inquiry by the independent investigator was not to re-investigate Code of Conduct complaints made during the term of this Council – 2017 through until 2021. The inquiry had no power to do so. The inquiry was confined to questions of whether the procedures have been complied with over the life of the Council and, where deficiencies were identified, make recommendations for improvement to policy or processes.
On 24 May 2021, Council resolved to engage an independent investigator to audit past code of conduct complaints. On 15 June 2021, Council further resolved (in part) to appoint Pinnacle Integrity to undertake the Independent Inquiry Investigation with a focus on the systemic management of past code of conduct matters.
A completed investigation report was received from Pinnacle Integrity on 6 July 2021. The Councillors were briefed by the Pinnacle Investigators to the report on 26 July 2021, prior to the Ordinary Council meeting and Committee of the Whole on the same date.
The publicly available report can be found here