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Norman Waterhouse

5 things to think about in November 2018

1. Mayor’s message

Each council must prepare and adopt its 2017/18 annual report on or before 30 November 2018. In our view, the mere inclusion of a “Mayor’s message” (as is common practice across many councils) in the annual report does not, in itself, contravene the ‘designated decision’ provisions of the Local Government (Elections) Act 1999. After all, it is a basic function of the principal member to be the principal spokesperson of their council. That function does not cease to apply during the caretaker period.

However, if the Mayor is seeking re-election, then it is important to ensure that the content of any Mayor’s message does not stray into matters which advantage the Mayor in their candidacy. Any Mayor’s message also should not include content which advantages or disadvantages the incumbent councillors, as many of them will also be candidates in the general election.

2. Meetings of new elected membership

It is the responsibility of the chief executive officer to appoint the time and place for the first ordinary meeting after the general election. Following this, the new elected membership will need to appoint times and places for ordinary meetings of the council by way of resolution.

For any council constituted as a municipal council, ordinary meetings may not be held before 5pm unless the council resolves otherwise by a resolution supported unanimously by all members of the council. No such restriction exists for a district council.

With respect to ordinary meetings of council committees, the times and places of such meetings will be appointed by the council or, subject to a decision of the council, the council committee

3. Document review (including possible new delegations requirement)

Following the general election, certain documents will lapse or will need to be reviewed within a certain period after the election. In particular: a policy with respect to the reimbursement of expenses lapses at a general election; the code of practice for access to meetings and documents must be reviewed within 12 months of the general election; and a ‘comprehensive review’ of strategic management plans must be undertaken within two years after the general election.

Additionally, a bill recently tabled in South Australian Parliament—the Statutes Amendment and Repeal (Simplify) Bill 2018—proposes, amongst many other things, to change the way in which council delegations are reviewed. That bill proposes to do away with the stipulation that councils ‘should’ review delegations at least annually, and to replace it with a legal requirement that delegations must be reviewed within 12 months after a periodic election. Should this proposal become law, we will provide a further alert to our readers.

4. Campaign donation return

The Local Government (Elections) Act 1999 (SA) regulates the acceptance of campaign donations, and prescribes requirements for the lodgement of campaign donation returns by candidates for elections (including unsuccessful candidates). Campaign donation returns do not need to disclose ‘private gifts’, nor gifts (monetary or otherwise) under $500 value.

However, candidates who are also elected members should observe that campaign donations are still ‘gifts and benefits’, and therefore must be disclosed in the council’s public gifts and benefits register if of a value greater than $100 (or other lower value prescribed by their council).

A candidate’s campaign donations returns must be lodged within 30 days after the conclusion of the election. If that deadline is missed, the CEO must notify the candidate of their default. If another month passes, the candidate—if they were successfully elected—will lose their office.

5. Primary return

Newly elected members (meaning all council members except those returning for a consecutive term) must also, within six weeks after the conclusion of the elections, submit a primary return to the CEO. The primary return sets out the various interests of the Council member which are prescribed under the Local Government Act 1999 (SA). The primary return is, of course, a separate return to the campaign donations return, with a different deadline. It is important that all new Council members are keenly aware of this distinction and the associated requirements.

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