Councillors warned about risks of messaging apps
QUEENSLAND councillors have been reminded of the rules and risks when it comes to using messaging apps to discuss council business.
The Office of the independent Assessor (OIA) in conjunction with Queensland State Archives has developed a guide to make it easy for councillors to understand their legal obligations when it comes to the use of apps while highlighting some pitfalls to avoid.
Independent Assessor Kathleen Florian said any conversation on an app that relates to council business must be properly recorded, not just for public confidence but to help councillors defend themselves should controversies arise in future.
"Councillors should use the systems provided by council to discuss council matters but if they stray into a conversation on an app, the guide outlines how the conversation can be properly recorded," she said.
"And with some apps, it is important to do this quickly before the conversations disappear.
"Any communication about council matters is a public record and the same record-keeping laws apply to conversations on apps and social media as they do to formal meetings."
Ms Florian said a failure to keep proper records could lead to councillors being accused of misconduct, inappropriate conduct or offences related to the Public Records Act 2002.
She also cautioned them not to assume that no one would ever know if they had used an app inappropriately.
"Relationships can change and any party to a conversation can screenshot it and make it public, and those sorts of records can often be released at a time designed to cause maximum harm like the lead-up to an election," she said.
"That sort of capacity for compromise also increases a councillor's vulnerability to bribery or coercion. It is not just individuals at risk, third-party disclosure of councillors' use of apps for official business could damage the reputation of an entire council by creating the perception of corruption or a cover-up."
Ipswich Mayor Teresa Harding said she welcomed the new guide and encouraged people to contact her and councillors through appropriate council channels.
"I have had people say to me that locks only keep honest people out so it's a pity we have to keep doing this, but I welcome it," she said.
"The CCC did show that private emails were being used (by the previous council), but obviously there's more to electronic communication than emails.
"It's just a matter of keeping up with the times, with the new apps as they come out."