At times various councils have experienced problems because they have passed resolutions that do not contain sufficient information, are ambiguous or non-directional. Often, in such cases the members of council, having debated the issue during a meeting,
have developed an understanding of what they expect a resolution to achieve but then do not ensure that such intention is reflected in the wording of the resolution.
Badly worded resolutions are often difficult to interpret. Ambiguity will often mean individual members of council may have a different concept of what is intended from the staff that have to implement the decision.
Such resolutions can lead to later complications for a variety of reasons including:
This guideline has been prepared to assist and remind elected members of the need for clarity and purpose in resolutions. Adherence to the clarity criteria set out in the guideline when drafting resolutions will minimize the likelihood of later frustrations
when outcomes expected from a resolution do not eventuate.
It is essential that resolutions passed by council are absolutely clear as to the expected outcome, how it is to be achieved, by when, by whom and at what cost.
Each resolution needs to be phrased in the positive and stand alone. A resolution must be clear as to its intent so that a person can understand what has been decided without recourse to information contained in a supporting report or document. If a time
frame or budget allocation is an essential element of the action required, these must be in the resolution.
It is better to have a resolution that may seem to contain excessive detail rather than one that does not contain sufficient information.
It must be remembered when framing resolutions that the only document kept for legal and historic purposes as evidence of council decisions is the minutes of meetings. Therefore, the resolutions in such minutes will be the defining statements.
It is intended that most staff recommendations be converted to decisions of council, so such recommendations to a committee and/or council meeting must be prepared with the same principles of a properly defined outcome.
Problems within resolutions often emerge when recommendations from staff or a committee are subject to amendment during a council meeting. A difficult meeting environment may lead to mistakes being made in terms of clarity in an amended motion and the
extent to which the ultimate motion addresses all issues involved.
To address this, each time a recommendation is being drafted or council is considering a new or amended motion the following check list should be worked through to ensure clarity within the motion.
All recommendations and motions should be clear as to:
Of course, in many cases not all of these eight criteria will be required but it is important that each motion is tested against them.
Positive action means phrasing the resolution in a positive way. Do not use negative terminology such as 'not accepted' or 'not rejected'. The type of problems this can cause is demonstrated in Example 1.
As noted above, problems are most likely to occur when motions are amended. It may be beneficial for the person presiding to call on the elected members and staff to review the wording of an amended motion and also check it against the above criteria
to make sure it passes the clarity test before putting it to the final vote. Taking the time to get it right may save later confusion or embarrassment. In drafting a motion it is often advisable to have someone play "devil's advocate" and try and
misinterpret the intention. Unfortunately, you will often find that is too easy to do.
The following examples demonstrate how poorly worded resolutions can cause problems and how the suggested version can be tested against the clarity criteria.
This example demonstrates why resolutions need to be phrased in the positive. Recently, at a local government the staff put forward a recommendation similar to the following:
'That the planning development application for lot 3 Brown Street, Smithville not be supported.'
The recommendation was moved at the council meeting and vigorous debate followed. When the presiding person called for a vote the motion was defeated.
As the motion stated that the application not be supported, the applicant claimed that its defeat meant that his application was approved. After a great deal of expensive legal advice the council had to reconsider the application and passed a new
resolution that was phrased to specifically refuse the application. The staff recommendation could be either:
"That the planning development application for lot 3 Brown Street, Smithville be approved." or
"That the planning development application for lot 3 Brown Street, Smithville not be approved."
In both cases it is very clear what council is voting to do.
The following is an example of a resolution, passed by a council which at first reading seems to be clear as to what is required:
"Assess whether a community consultation program should be undertaken regarding the provision of recreation programs for adults."
However, when assessed against the clarity criteria the following is found:
"A consultant is to be appointed by the CEO with the task of:
The cost of the consultancy is to be no more than $10,000.
The 2004/5 budget be amended to transfer an amount of $10,000 from the 'Member's Expenses-Conferences' to 'Community Development – Recreation Facilities, Watebup'.
Voting; absolute majority required.
In this case, criteria C (for example, 'How it is to be done') does not need to be clearly defined because in appointing a consultant the CEO will be responsible for ensuring that the consultant knows how to undertake the task.
A simple example of an unclear resolution is where the CEO wanted the local government to build a barbecue for his use at the house he rented off the local government. The recommendation put to council and subsequently passed was:
"That the CEO be permitted to build a barbecue at lot 3 Smith Street."
When the account from the local builder for the construction of the barbecue was presented to Council for payment, one councillor argued that in fact the Council resolution provided that the CEO was permitted to build a barbecue but at his expense.
It can be seen that with the passage of time since the matter was debated and passed and a possible turnover of elected members the ambiguity in this resolution could become a problem.
Motions need to drafted in the positive. For example, a council received the following recommendation from its officers:
"That council consider approving Cr Smith and the deputy CEO attending the National Improvement Conference in Sydney on 3 to 5 March 2006."
Council duly passed that recommendation with the same wording.
The motion was acted upon by the councillor and the deputy CEO attending the conference. However, the motion was to 'consider' the proposal whereas it was intended that council approve the proposal. It can be argued that no approval was given for
them attending the conference.
Therefore the motion should have read,
"That council approve Cr Smith and the deputy CEO attending…".
An important message here is that staff recommendations need to be in the form that can be directly converted to a positive resolution.
Another typical resolution that could be analysed is as follows:
"That the CEO's annual performance appraisal is to be conducted."
After debate this motion was amended to:
"That the CEO's annual performance appraisal is to be conducted and for the mayor/president to arrange for a committee to undertake the appraisal."
The amendment does not make the resolution any clearer. Problems with this amended motion are:
An appropriate resolution emerging from this situation would be:
"The CEO's annual performance appraisal is to be conducted as follows:
Many elected members and staff will have experienced the frustration of trying to determine what was meant by a resolution that council passed several months earlier. By raising the issue through this guideline and identifying the clarity criteria, individuals
in meetings will have a greater awareness of the need to carefully consider the wording of council motions so that those required to implement the resolution will not be in any doubt as to the intent.
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