Blacktown Council has lost an attempt to keep a performance review of general manager Ron Moore under wraps.
The council was defending its move to deny Lalor Park resident Denys Clarke access to the review in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal.
Mr Clarke said his interest in the review was sparked when Mr Moore’s contract was renewed for five years, just two months before the review was required.
The council maintained the performance review was comprised totally of personal information and did not release it to Mr Clarke’s application under access to information laws.
After a two-year battle for the documents that cost the council almost $20,000, and the Local Government Association another $8200, the tribunal ruled in Mr Clarke’s favour.
In her ruling, tribunal deputy president Sigrid Higgins said ‘‘the personal information about Mr Moore is very brief, summary and very general in nature’’.
‘‘I find, on balance, the public interest considerations against disclosure do not outweigh those in favour of disclosure.’’
Mr Clarke, a former councillor who represented himself for most of the legal battle, said the decision was a win for transparency in government.
‘‘It has always been too easy to cover up and suppress the truth,’’ he said.
‘‘This victory strengthens the opportunity to uncover wrongdoing and malpractice in Blacktown Council.’’
The council has until Tuesday to appeal the decision and as yet has not released the documents to Mr Clarke.
A spokeswoman for the council said the review had been withheld in line with Local Government Association recommendations because it was considered private information.
‘‘(The) council considered that the full release of a Performance Review report of an employee, including personal details, could impact the integrity and basis of employee performance reports,’’ she said.
The council’s view was reiterated by the Local Government Association which has recommended to all councils that reviews into staff performances be withheld from the public.
Read more of the response from Blacktown Council below:
Council considered that the full release of a Performance Review report of an employee, including personal details, could impact the integrity and basis of employee performance reports.
Council’s concerns were that a decision to release this information would set a benchmark for similar applications, and thereby establish a precedent which may have far-reaching consequences.
Effective and fair performance assessments involve full and frank discussions between an employer and an employee on the performance of an employee.
However, this may be compromised if an employer is compelled to release to the public any personal or confidential information emanating from that process.
The performance management report of any council staff member, including the general manager, should not be released to the public and should be retained on the appropriate confidential council employment file.
Release of such personal information to other than the Performance Review Panel, the general manager and the councillors in confidence may be a breach of privacy legislation.
In view of the potential ramifications Council resolved to defend the matter in the Administrative Decision Tribunal (ADT), and in doing so gained the support of the Local Government Association and Local Government Managers Australia (NSW).
The final judgment from the ADT was released in February 2013, and it was determined that certain parts, though not all, of the 2009/2010 Performance Review of the General Manager should be released.
Council has not determined at this stage whether to appeal this decision.
The current net cost to Council for this matter is $19,847.90, it being noted that the Local Government Association (LGA) has contributed $8,283.67 towards defending this matter.
This matter was reported to Council in the quarterly Legal Cost Report to Council for the September 2012 quarter.
Council receives quarterly reports which detail all current legal matters.
Council, consistent with other councils, reports overall legal costs in its Annual Report and Annual Financial Reports.