Norman Waterhouse
   
Norman Waterhouse

Normans Briefly

In this issue

Welcome to the April edition of the Normans Local Government Briefly.

Don’t miss the most important and comprehensive conference on the legal issues impacting Local Government. Over 200 delegates attended last year’s Norman Waterhouse Local Government Conference. This year Normans will highlight emerging trends and key issues affecting South Australian councils, drawing on Normans’ unique perspective as the leading advisor to the sector.

The conference will be held on the 9th of August 2013 at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.

Complete conference program available online soon.

>   Local Government – Goodbye Office for State/Local Government Relations
>   Local Government – Temporary electoral signage
>   Procurement – How sustainable are your procurement practices?
>   Governance – Discrimination against Hepatitis CEO
>   Employment – Will your drug and alcohol testing policy withstand challenge?
>   Environment & Planning - ERD Court reconsiders power to quash approvals
>   Local Government – Prosecution as a tool for compliance with food laws
>   Guest author - Tim Piper, Finance Director, Adelaide Hills Council

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Local Government – Goodbye Office for State/Local Government Relations

The Government has decided to restructure the role of the Office for State/Local Government Relations (OSLGR), bringing the OSLGR Office as you know it to an end.

The Minister for State/Local Government Relations has liaised with the Local Government Association to seek its support for the proposed change. The current functions of the OSLGR will now, it appears, be incorporated into other Government departments.

A further change on the horizon is that the Local Government Act 1999 and the Local Government (Elections) Act 1999 will become the responsibility of the Minister for Planning, currently Hon John Rau MP.

This restructuring step is considered by the Government to be appropriate on account of the new framework consisting of the Ombudsman, the Auditor-General, the Anti-Corruption Branch and the new ICAC. The Hon Gail Gago MLC will remain the Minister for State/Local Government Relations.

These changes, if implemented in their entirety, will have been made in time for the establishment of the ICAC. What impact these changes will have for Local Government are yet to be realised. Regardless, the changes predispose eventful times ahead for Local Government.

For more specific information on any of the material contained in this article please contact Sathish Dasan on 8210 1253 or sdasan@normans.com.au or Felice D’Agostino on 8210 1202 or fdagostino@normans.com.au.


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Local Government – Temporary electoral signage

The question of Council regulation of election signage has arisen before the Western Australian Supreme Court (the WA Court), with the WA Liberal Party challenging the ability of the City of Armadale to absolutely prohibit or to issue permits for temporary election signage. With elections at all levels of government in South Australia looming in the foreseeable future, it is worthwhile for councils to take note of some of the preliminary rulings of the case, as well as to revisit the South Australian legislation regarding temporary election signage.

The ongoing Supreme Court case in Western Australia

A recent interlocutory (and thus not final) hearing of the dispute between the WA Liberal party and the City of Armadale (Liberal Party of Australia (Western Australian Division) Inc v City of Armadale [2013] WASC 27) has demonstrated that Courts will readily accept that, in the lead-up to an election, the positive role played by temporary election signage as conduits for political speech outweighs the potential negative impact of such signage on local amenity.

Local Government legislation in Western Australia is not as prescriptive as South Australian legislation regarding temporary election signage and moveable signs in general. As such, the City of Armadale had absolutely prohibited election signage, even on private land. After this was challenged by the WA Liberal Party in advance of the 2013 WA State election, the City of Armadale retreated from its position of absolute prohibition and posed a scheme by which one sign per building frontage would be permitted.  However signs greater than one square metre would require Council approval and there would be a prohibition on erecting signs more than 60 days before an election.

The WA Court has provisionally found that the scheme posed by the City of Armadale is still unlawful, as it constitutes ‘a significant fetter against political communications’ and that the ground of preserving amenity is not a suitable justification for such a fetter.

While the City of Armadale’s position still permitted people to express political views through signs, the WA Court found that ‘requiring people to jump through bureaucratic hoops’ is nevertheless a fetter. In support of this point, the WA Court referred to comments made by the South Australian Supreme Court in Corporation of the City of Adelaide v Corneloup (2011) 110 SASR 334, part of the high-profile ‘Rundle Mall preachers’ litigation. It is unclear whether the WA Court would decide the case the same way in light of the recent High Court decision of Attorney-General (SA) v Corporation of the City of Adelaide [2013] HCA 3, which overturned the decision of the South Australian Supreme Court.

While the WA Court indicated that a fetter could in some instances be justified, it found that in this case the requirements which the City of Armadale sought to impose were purely for the purposes of amenity and as such were not justified because:

‘[a] fetter or fetlock inhibiting political communications under electoral signage properly made in a liberal democracy during an electoral process leading to a State election needs to be properly justified by considerations weightier than the mere temporary look of a local neighbourhood during an election campaign’.

The above statement could be considered to apply not only to State elections, but also Federal and Local Government elections.

South Australian legislation

The legislative framework for the control of moveable signs expressly exempts (at Sections 226(3)(c) and (ca) of the Local Government Act 1999 (SA) (the Act)) Federal, State and Local Government election signage from being subject to moveable sign permits. For Federal and State Government signage, the exemption operates from the date the writ or writs for the election are issued until the close of polls. For Local Government signage, the exemption lasts from the date four weeks before polling day until the close of polls. The only grounds in Section 227(1) of the Act upon which a Council may require a person to remove a temporary election sign during these exempt periods are that the sign restricts the use of a road or that the sign is a danger to public safety.

Not only are temporary election signs exempted from moveable sign permits during certain periods, they are also (subject to a size restriction) exempted from development approval and thus may freely be displayed on private property. Schedule 3 Clause 1(f) of the Development Regulations 2008 (SA) exempts Federal, State and Local Government election signage from the ambit of the Development Act 1993 (SA) where the total size of such signage does not exceed 2 square metres on any one building or site.

Take home message

In South Australia, Councils have very little latitude in restricting temporary election signage. Where such latitude does exist it is very limited.  Councils should be aware that the judicial emphasis on freedom of political communication would make it very difficult to justify restrictions upon such signage in the lead-up to an election other than restrictions based on safety.

For more specific information on any of the material contained in this article please contact Felice D'Agostino on 08 8210 1202 or fdagostino@normans.com.au.


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Procurement – How sustainable are your procurement practices?

The buzz phrase “Sustainable Procurement” is becoming ever prevalent in local government. This is especially the case because of the importance of the environment and the obligations placed on local government in relation to its expenditure.

What is “Sustainable Procurement”?

Sustainable Procurement considers the social, environmental and economic impact of procuring goods or services. This concept is not new and has been implemented on an international level.

In summary, the concept “Sustainable Procurement”, promotes procuring authorities to look beyond the upfront cost of a good or service, and focus on making decisions based on the entire life cycle of the good or service, taking into account associated costs, environmental and social risks and benefits. Below are some brief dot points which can be considered in observing sustainable procurement practices.

Environmental impacts

  • Inputs of natural resources
  • Energy and water used in the manufacture of a good
  • Use and disposal

Social impacts

  • Labour conditions
  • Use and disposal
  • Compliance with legislation
  • Using fair trade practices

Economic impacts

  • Cost of acquisition
  • Cost of operation
  • Cost of maintenance
  • Whole of life cost

It is important to note that councils don't need to take an all or nothing approach. Many successful Sustainable Procurement strategies were launched based on a single minor improvement.

Benefits of Sustainable Procurement?

The benefits of Sustainable Procurement include:

  • reducing adverse environmental impacts arising out of local government procurement practices;
  • making more efficient use of public resources;
  • stimulating local markets to innovate and produce more sustainable products; and
  • generating financial savings through greater energy efficiency, reduced waste disposal and reduced water use.

Legislative interaction with Sustainable Procurement

Sections 6, 7 and 8 of the Local Government Act 1999 (LG Act) provide the principal role of a council, functions of a council and principles to be observed by a council. Pursuant to the LG Act, councils must provide and co-ordinate various public services and facilities and must develop its community and resources in a socially just and ecologically sustainable manner.

Furthermore, councils are obliged to ensure that council resources are used fairly, effectively and efficiently and councils must seek to facilitate sustainable development and the protection of the environment. Councils are also obligated to ensure that councils maintain a proper balance of economic, social, environmental and cultural considerations in relation to performing their functions under the LG Act.

How to implement Sustainable Procurement?

As stated above, pursuant to the LG Act, councils are already obligated to consider economic, social and environmental impacts. These obligations mirror the principles of Sustainable Procurement and as such, councils should already be practising Sustainable Procurement in some shape or form.

To actively implement Sustainable Procurement practices, all departments need to review current policies and adopt strategies to avoid unnecessary consumption and manage demand. Councils should also institute an overarching framework or policy and implement an action plan which sets commitments for operations.

The success of procuring in a sustainable manner hinges on the cooperation of all teams and their ability to implement a sustainable procurement policy.

As councils would be aware, the implementation of a novel or innovative procurement approach must be done carefully to ensure that probity and procurement obligations of the council are adhered to. We have helped a number of councils to do so.

For more specific information on any of the material contained in this article, please contact Mark Henderson on 08 8210 1220 or mhenderson@normans.com.au.


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Governance – Discrimination against Hepatitis CEO

The relationship between the CEO and the Elected Members is crucial for the effective functioning of a council. However, personalities and circumstances can cause their relationship to be strained. The recent case of Matthews v Hargreaves (No.4) [2013] FMCA 4 demonstrates an extreme example of this relationship breaking down and how councils may fall foul of the proposed codes of conduct under the ICAC Act.

Mr Matthews was the CEO of the Shire of Shark Bay Council, Western Australia. He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. Mr Hargreaves was an Elected Member of the Council who did not get along with Mr Matthews. It was a well-known fact that there was pre-existing tension between the pair.

In March 2008, Mr Hargreaves sent an email to his fellow Elected Members stating he understood “from a seemingly reliable source that Mr Matthews has Hepatitis C.” This email was one of many from Mr Hargreaves complaining about Mr Matthews until 2010, when Mr Matthews eventually resigned.

In the period prior to resignation, Mr Hargreaves told others, including residents, ratepayers and local media, about Mr Matthews’ illness.

This situation caused great distress to Mr Matthews. He took extensive sick leave and received workers’ compensation for his resulting depression and stress. Ultimately, he ceased employment with the Council pursuant to a commercial settlement, and in doing so, the parties signed a deed of release.

However, Mr Matthews filed a disability discrimination claim against Mr Hargreaves in the Federal Magistrates Court.

In his defence, Mr Hargreaves indicated that he did not disseminate the information about Mr Matthews’ health for ulterior reasons. Rather he provided the information because he felt that he had a duty to protect public health and he wanted to eliminate alleged “corruption” in the Council. Neither of these two grounds was proven in Court.

The Court found that Mr Hargreaves had breached the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) because his actions constituted a significant detriment to Mr Matthews. Further, it was considered that, on the objective test, Mr Matthews was treated less favourably than a senior employee (subject to corrupt allegations) who did not have hepatitis C.

However, due to the deed of release previously signed by the Council and Mr Matthews, the claim of discrimination was held to be unsuccessful.  The deed of settlement prevented Mr Matthews from making another claim against Council, which, when broadly, defined included Mr Hargreaves as an Elected Member.

Take Home Messages

Even though Mr Matthews’ claim did not succeed, it is timely reminder for all employers to ensure they have appropriate practices and policies in place to manage employees. Below are a few tips for employers to prevent discrimination occurring in the workplace:

  • Employers must keep (sensitive) medical information about employees confidential, unless there is reasonable grounds to dissemination this information to appropriate third parties;
  • Employers must be consistent in their approach when dealing with employees;
  • Employers must have comprehensive policies in place to prevent discrimination and harassment and adhere to them;
  • Employers should keep a record of employees who have had training in relation to these policies;
  • Employers must treat any complaint about discrimination or harassment seriously.

Furthermore, with the Commencement of the ICAC Act Councils must consider the impact of the Mandatory Code of Conduct and understand appropriate processes when dealing with alleged corruption. It is assumed that the Mandatory Code for Elected Members will be in finalized and in force in the coming months. Remember the ICAC intends his office will be open from 2 September 2013!

For more specific information on any of the material contained in this article please contact Trevor Gormley on 8210 1246 or tgormley@normans.com.au or Amanda Green on 8217 1306 or agreen@normans.com.au.


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Employment – Will your drug and alcohol testing policy withstand challenge?

Both State-system and Federal-system employers can draw lessons from the recent Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision of Briggs v AWH Pty Ltd [2013] FWC 2017. In that case, an employee’s challenge to a drug and alcohol testing policy was defeated due to the Employer’s diligence at the contract, policy and procedural levels.

The facts

Contract and Policy

Mr Raymond Briggs (Employee) was employed by AWH (Employer). His contract contained express clauses requiring him to observe the policies, directions, orders and instructions of the Employer. His contract also expressly provided that he must not be under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs while performing his duties, and must comply with any requirement to undertake a drug test.

The Employer’s Alcohol and Drug Misuse Policy (Policy) expressly indentified that the Employer may direct the participation of employees in urine testing, and that the procedures for such urine testing would be in accordance with the relevant Australian Standard. The Policy also expressly provided that refusal by an employee to undergo tests in accordance with the Policy is a ground for disciplinary action, including termination.

Refusal to undergo urine testing

The Employee refused to undergo urine testing. The Employee did however propose to submit to oral swab testing instead. The Employee considered that oral swab testing was a more reliable means of testing whether or not an employee is impaired by alcohol or other drugs. The Employee indicated a specific provision of the Australian Standard relevant to urine testing which supported his contention. The Employee had raised his concerns prior to the testing date.

Disciplinary procedures

The request for an oral swab test was denied, and a meeting was called to discuss the Employee’s refusal to undergo urine testing. The Employer made clear that the meeting was not concerned with the validity of testing procedures but rather was to request that the Employee follows the Employer’s Policy and procedures as directed. After continued refusal to submit to testing, a more formal meeting was called and the Employee was given an opportunity to provide written reasons for his refusal.

The reasons were essentially that oral swab testing is presently ‘best practice’, and as such he considered that the Employer should use oral swab testing instead of urine testing. In a further meeting to discuss his response, the Employee contended that the because the Policy was not ‘best practice’, it was not relevant. The refusal continued, and so the Employee was sent a letter requiring attendance at a specified time and place for a urine test. The letter was expressly stated to be a ‘final warning’, non-compliance with which may result in termination.

The Employee did not attend the testing appointment and his employment was accordingly terminated. The Employee commenced unfair dismissal proceedings in the FWC, contending that the Policy was unsound and thus that he was entitled to refuse to engage with it.

Findings of the Fair Work Commission

The FWC firstly and importantly highlighted the importance of the contractual provisions requiring directions to be followed, the provisions of the Policy which specifically outline consequences for breach of the Policy, and the incorporation of the Policy into the contract of employment.

The FWC then considered whether or not the directions to undergo testing and/or the Policy itself were unreasonable. Case law specifically on the point of drug testing methodology was examined, and the FWC concluded that urine testing is a reasonable and legitimate form of testing. Because urine testing is reasonable, an employer may choose to adopt and require urine testing regardless of whether one or more employees would prefer an alternative approach.

The implementation of workplace policies is a part of an employer’s right to determine how it will manage its business. Choosing a particular method of drug testing and requiring all employees to submit to that particular method is a part of this right. Employees do not have a general right to refuse to submit to a particular method of drug testing merely because they do not consider the method to be ‘best practice’.

The Policy was deemed reasonable. The directions to undergo testing were also deemed reasonable because they were consistent with the Policy. The FWC also considered that the various interactions between the Employee and Employer from the time of the initial refusal up to and including termination were procedurally fair.

The FWC determined that the Employer was entitled to dismiss the Employee for failing to follow a lawful and reasonable direction to undertake urine drug testing.

Take home message

The decision canvasses many aspects of the law surrounding drug testing in employment, ranging from technical points such as the suitability of certain testing methodologies to broad considerations of employers’ rights to introduce policies.

The Employer’s actions withstood the Employee’s challenge not simply because the Policy prescribed a valid testing methodology. Of critical importance were the contractual requirements to comply with policies and directions, including directions to submit to drug tests. Furthermore, the Policy expressly outlined the consequences for non-compliance. Also of significance was the Employer’s conduct after the refusal; all relevant statutory procedural fairness requirements were adhered to. All of these factors should be present for a drug and alcohol testing-based dismissal to be valid.

For more specific information on any of the material contained in this article please contact Michael Foley on 08 8217 1355 or mfoley@normans.com.au.


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Environment & Planning - ERD Court reconsiders power to quash approvals

In the recent ERD Court decision of Paior v The City of Marion [2013] ERDC 10 Her Honour Judge Cole reconsidered the scope of the Court’s powers under section 88(1)(a) of the Development Act 1993 (Act) to “confirm, vary or reverse any decision ... or determination to which the proceedings relate”.

The case considers the power of the Court to quash a development approval in circumstances where procedural decisions, in particular the public notification category assigned to the development, are later found to have been incorrect.

Significantly, the decision in Paior is at odds with the Court’s earlier decision in Turner v District Council of Yankalilla [2011] SAERDC 41, but consistent with its decision in Pohl v Adelaide Hills Council [2009] SAERDC 44.

Facts

The case concerns a development application for the construction of a two-storey dwelling with associated in-ground swimming pool and verandah (Development).  Mr & Mrs Paior own the land adjacent the site of the Development.

The Council processed the Development as Category 1 for the purposes of public notification.  Accordingly, Mr & Mrs Paior were not notified of the application.  Further, they had no right of appeal against the Council’s subsequent decision to grant development plan consent to the Development.

Mr & Mrs Paior applied for review of the Council’s decision to process the Development as Category 1.

Issue

The Court was asked to consider a preliminary question about its power to quash a development approval.

The issue was whether the powers under Section 88(1)(a) when limited to the specific decision the subject of the appeal (ie to process the Development as Category 1), or whether they would also apply to subsequent decisions about the Development (ie the decision to grant development plan consent).

In the earlier decision of Turner, His Honour Judge Costello held that the power under Section 88(1)(a) could only be exercised in relation to the decision that was the subject of the appeal.  Based on the decision in Turner, the only way to overturn a consent or approval granted after incorrect public notification would be to seek judicial review in the Supreme Court.

Decision

Her Honour Judge Cole determined that a wider reading of the words “to which the proceedings relate” (s88(1)(a)) was appropriate.  In her view, the proceedings relate not only to the categorisation decision under appeal, but to the processing and assessment of the Development generally.

If it were otherwise, the Court would have the power to vary the original categorisation decision, but would not have the power to quash any subsequent consent or approval.  Her Honour felt that outcome was unlikely to have been intended by the legislature.

Contrary to Turner, Her Honour’s decision in Paior gives the ERD Court sufficient power to quash a development consent or approval following a determination by the Court that the application was not assigned to the correct public notification category.

Conclusion

In light of the decisions in Paior, Turner and Pohl the law remains unsettled on the issue. 

We understand that the Paior decision has been appealed to the Supreme Court.  A decision of the Supreme Court on this issue will be binding on the ERD Court.

For more specific information on any of the material contained in this article please contact Jacqueline Plant on 8210 1230 or jplant@normans.com.au or James Nicolson on 8217 1342 or jnicolson@normans.com.au.


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Local Government – Prosecution as a tool for compliance with food laws

This article provides an update on the recent high-profile finding of guilt against Woolworths (South Australia) Pty Ltd in a food prosecution earlier this year. That case is one of an increasing number of successful prosecutions under South Australian food legislation, and demonstrates the value in pursuing persons and companies who violate food safety laws.

The Woolworths case

A Woolworths store in Murray Bridge sold a ready-to-eat meal 13 days after its use-by date. The purchaser only noticed the use-by-date after having consumed the meal, and made a complaint to the Rural City of Murray Bridge (Council) the next day. An officer of the Council attended the store to inspect the relevant product. The officer found another identical product with the same use-by date as that complained of – making it now 14 days out-of-date.  The officer was also able to purchase the item.

The matter proceeded in the Adelaide Magistrates Court where the Council (instructing Norman Waterhouse) successfully prosecuted the company. The prosecution resulted in Woolworths being found guilty and incurring a $7,500 fine, as well as a large amount of publicity in the local and national media.  At the time of imposing sentence, the Magistrate acknowledged this publicity would outweigh any fine he could impose in the case of such a large company.

Since the commencement of the proceedings, the particular Woolworths store has retrained staff regarding date code checks.

What it means for all Councils

Local government regulatory and compliance officers are responsible for seeking compliance with laws designed to improve the quality of life of the public at large. An important part of seeking compliance with laws is deterrence, both on an individual level (specific deterrence) and a general level (general deterrence).

The laws with which environmental health officers are responsible for seeking compliance have a particularly direct correlation to quality of life. Serious breaches of food legislation can gravely impact health on a large scale.

This prosecution shows the importance of pursuing complaints for the purposes of securing specific deterrence (the relevant Woolworths store promptly retrained staff). Furthermore, this prosecution illustrates that following through prosecutions right until the end can also be highly effective for general deterrence – the publicity will likely influence other nearby food businesses and perhaps also other food businesses (particularly larger businesses) even further afield.

A successful prosecution of food-related offences safeguards community health and is one of the more visible ways to reassure the community that Council environmental health officers are fulfilling their important roles.

Norman Waterhouse has significant experience and expertise in the conducting of Council prosecutions regarding food and public health law, and other regulatory matters.

For more specific information on any of the material contained in this article please contact Dale Mazzachi on 08 8210 1221 or dmazzachi@normans.com.au.


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Guest author - Tim Piper, Finance Director, Adelaide Hills Council

Abstract: for many Councils technology is seen as an expense, not an investment. A problem, not a solution.  One mid-sized South Australian Council is breaking out of that mindset.  Adelaide Hills Council Finance Director, Tim Piper, explains how.

Turning technology into part of the solution...

Make an honest assessment of your organisation's plans for, say, the next three years.  Is technology a part of the solutions you are offering, or a part of the problems you are trying to solve? I suspect that for many South Australian Councils it is the latter.  Why?

Technology in Local Government

There is no doubt that the local government sector got off to a good start with IT.  The ability to organise everything and manage vast amounts of detail appealed greatly to the local government psyche.  Several bespoke management systems have been developed which offer great benefits to Councils. In South Australia we seem to have formed several distinct tribes, each using one of the premier Council management systems on the market.  All have their disciples and all can demonstrate a strong track record.

There is, however, a darker side to technology. Computers don't generate less paper, they generate more.  Once you commit to a system, you can quickly become locked in. Your dependence on one main supplier soon limits your flexibility and your agility. They can provide a seamless solution, but often at a cost which is more than just financial.  Years of in-house development and over-specialisation can combine with, in IT industry terms, a lack of capital to keep pace with latest developments. In practical terms this means that organisations often have to do what their software will let them do, rather than what they want to do.  For example, if your core system cannot interact with the latest generation of Microsoft products then you will quickly be left behind.

Foundations, Flexibility and Futures

At Adelaide Hills Council (AHC) we adopted a three year strategy called “Foundations Flexibility and Futures” in 2010.  Like many Councils, we had built up a slightly disparate patchwork of software and licensing arrangements, installed on ageing hardware which had mostly been selected for price.  IT staff fought a running battle to keep the network and systems operating, and few people saw technology as an enabler within the organisation.

So we set about restoring a firm foundation. We upgraded our Microsoft licensing to ensure that everyone always had the same and most current version of software. We standardised wherever possible, and upgraded our remote access from Citrix to VMWare so that all users enjoyed “independent” access.

With large offices in both Stirling and Woodside, AHC was spending $5,000 every month on a high-speed copper connection between the two.  By constructing a communications tower at Woodside, we switched to a microwave wireless link which transmits all internal traffic via the Mount Lofty communication towers.  The new link is ten times as fast, offers ten times the capacity and has paid for itself in less than three years.

Mr Hardware and Mr Software

One key distinction applied very early was to treat ICT (Information & Communications Technology) and IS (Information Systems) as separate but connected disciplines.  We appointed a manager to concentrate on each (quickly dubbed “Mr Hardware” and “Mr Software”) and began to build our flexibility.

Using VMWare allowed us almost to eliminate pc’s from our offices. Most staff use thin client terminals, usually with twin monitors, and even the most sceptical have been quick to recognise the benefits of the extra work space on screen. We also introduced iPads for elected members and management at the beginning of 2012.  These have proved highly successful, saving not only 11 trees’ worth of paper each year through virtual meeting agendas, but also many hours of staff time each week.  As people learn how to use pdf documents and to annotate and search them electronically, the iPads have grown even more popular.

"We're not salmon - we don’t have to swim upstream!"

We assessed our suite of software and, in particular, our dependence on our core management system.  We looked at how to improve our monitoring and reporting.  Our websites, both internal and external, were struggling to meet the demands placed upon them, and we had no consistent approach to relationship management or case management.

Looking around at developments in the commercial sector, we realised that solutions to many of our problems had already been developed and were widely in use outside local government.  Off the shelf Microsoft products existed which could help to integrate and stabilise our disparate systems. Clustered around our core management system was a gaggle of supporting programs which reflected and reinforced a “silo” mentality about things like asset management and records.

The first step was to introduce Sharepoint 2010 (the first SA council to use that version) and provide an easy to use intranet called Workspace.  A range of team-sites and a central bulletin board helped to boost internal communication and eliminated "All Staff" email traffic overnight (designing and building Workspace was the easy bit. Training and persuading all staff to use it is more challenging, but we are finding that success quickly breeds success).

The next step was to use Microsoft XRM to build a case management (and customer relationship management) system.  This keeps an accurate record of incoming requests and tasks, but it also feeds the information into other systems as required.  Already it interacts with Outlook (email and calendars), and eventually it will combine with the Lync VOIP telephony system to allow “call popping”.  As calls come in, the system retrieves the caller’s details and case history on-screen immediately.

The Lync telephony system has transformed both internal and external calls.  Your extension can follow you from desk to desk, incoming call details appear on screen, and voicemails arrive as an email which can even be checked via laptop, ipad or smartphone if away.  An instant chat messaging system has further reduced internal emails and, once the NBN arrives next year, video conferencing will also be available when required.

Embracing the Digital Age

The NBN is coming to Stirling and AHC has already secured three Federal grants to assist with preparations.  A Digital Hub now operates in the Coventry library, Stirling and has been buzzing since it opened at the beginning of the year.  Santa Claus appears to have delivered a lot of iPads to our residents last Christmas, and iPad training is currently the hot ticket.  Of even more significance to Council, however, is the Digital Local Government programme, and AHC is in the middle of designing a new external website specifically engineered to take advantage of broadband.

The majority of Council websites are structured like Council. If you know how Council is organised, you will, or at least may, quickly find the page that you need.  It is apparent from our customer feedback, however, that most visitors do not know (or care) how Council is organised. With expectations raised by lightning fast and intuitive commercial websites, they do not like our more traditional approach.  The AHC Online project will use Google or Siri type logic to identify what the visitor needs and take them straight there.  It will allow for a great many routine council transactions to be completed online and unaided, and by interacting with the Lync VOIP software it will be able to feed straight into audio or video phone calls if required.

So how did AHC shift technology from a problem to a solution? By separating ICT from IS, by learning from other sectors, and by stepping outside the traditional Council comfort zone for IT. Can your Council do the same?


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