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Council matters


On this occasion I address:

  • Matters arising from the last edition of Council Matters – and from elsewhere :

  • The Mayor’s role in debate (within the chamber)

  • Council’s purchase of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site and ARIC

  • The need for recording the Public Access session, prior to meetings

  • Call for Expressions of Interest

  • Matters outstanding; and

  • Next Tuesday’s agenda

MATTERS ARISING

There are a few issues which have arisen from the last edition of Council Matters, which warrant a response.

The Mayor’s role in debate (within the chamber)

Several Beagle correspondents have expressed absolute certainty in their view that the mayor is not permitted to take part in a debate in the chamber – unless, according to one view, the mayor “nominate[s] another councillor to take the chair and move[s] to the floor to then take part in the debate”! According to this correspondent, this form of musical chairs is normal protocol. I have attended very many council meetings and have never seen such a thing. If I had I would certainly have had something to say on it; and if such manoeuvres have taken place in the past then they have been done in ignorance of council meeting practice. It is of concern that this view – of the mayor being restricted or prevented from taking part in a debate - is held at all; but it is of special concern when it is held by former councillors. We are not dealing here with the role of a chairperson at a Toastmasters or Rostrum meeting.

And the former councillor who referred to the protocol of musical chairs, has suggested that I “need to understand the role of the mayor”. On this, I suggest that he read my Beagle article of 31 December 2016 to appreciate my understanding of the mayor’s role.

On the matter of the mayor’s involvement in debate, I refer the correspondents in question to the following passage from the Office of Local Government’s publication Meetings Practice Note:

2.3 Councillor Accountability - Open Decision-making

Open decision-making is an important part of local government and should be the rule rather than the exception. The ability of the public and media to attend and watch council and committee meetings — seeing the deliberations and decisions of elected representatives — is essential for councillor accountability. This is recognised by the legislation, which encourages open decision-making at council meetings. Councillors should be prepared to state their views publicly on both controversial and routine issues. Informed voting by electors is best achieved when they can observe the speeches, debate and voting patterns of their councillors. Council decisions should be based on fairness, impartiality, objectivity and consideration of all the issues (Sections 4 and 6 of the Model Code). Open decision-making helps achieve this, as well as preventing misunderstanding and unfounded criticisms from the public. For those who may not know, the Mayor, at the same time as being the Mayor, is also a councillor. And therefore, like all other councillors, is expected to “be prepared to state [her] views publicly on both controversial and routine issues“– in addition to facilitating the meeting. All that the OLG has stated here on this issue is what should be obvious to all but it does so in order to leave no doubt. The Local Government Act 1993 (sections 360 to 376) and in particular Part 10 of its associated Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 (clauses 231 to 273), deal with council meetings in detail. You will see that councillors are not required to vote nor are they required to speak on a matter. However a councillor who fails to vote will be taken to have voted against the motion in question (section 251 of the LGA). And a councillor who fails to speak will be judged by the electors. Make sure to watch the live streaming of the meetings or access the archived video records, so that you can see firsthand just who of your councillors involves him or herself in the debates and what they actually have to say – or not say. Council’s purchase of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site and ARIC The next ‘matter arising’, concerns questions raised by Beagle contributor Jeff de Jager, about council’s purchase of the Batemans Bowling Club site and just what part the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee has played, if any, in examining the process by which that purchase took place . Here is what he had to say: To keep the ball rolling, Peter, was any mention made in the discussions at the meeting on the wisdom of avoiding toxic investments outside the traditional instruments and institutions or following the (only just nominal) "Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee" report on the council's investment in the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site? Seeing that the purchase of the site was in contravention of council's own procurement policy, it would be a subject one would have thought would have been thoroughly examined by an auditing and risk committee............... or was it one of those issues supposedly robustly discussed but not approved for public knowledge? The questions raised by Mr de Jager require the attention of all councillors but, realistically, it will only receive attention from those who are genuinely committed to positive reform. And by positive reform I mean that which opens the workings of council up to the public – those to whom council is meant to be accountable – to the full extent that the relevant legislation permits. Our constant refrain is for transparency and accountability. Transparency, in simple terms, involves ‘laying it all on the table’. Accountability involves the application of meaningful consequences for transgressions of good conduct and administrative practice. The Brou tip issue And we have a question from one of our former councillors, Allan Brown, whose name occasionally pops up in correspondence, and being one of those referred to above, who has asked “Have any reports been presented to councillors about the Brou Tip or have councillors asked for detailed reports on the matter Peter?” I would expect (hope) that councillors have been provided with a full briefing by staff in the course of which – and subsequent to it – they have asked all questions necessary in order to be satisfied that council has been dealing with this matter as it should do. If this has happened then it would be good to hear from our representatives – either some or all of them – by way of the matter being brought into the chamber, for debate, and thereby hopefully put it to rest. The need for recording the Public Access session prior to meetings In my commentary on the 14 February meeting I neglected to address the matter of urgent business brought forward by Councillor Pollock. On viewing the video, I heard him refer to having “pointed out” something on the matter of the Corrigan’s beach inclusive playground “this morning”. I replayed the video – more than once – but could not find anywhere that he had “pointed out” anything on this matter. I have subsequently learnt that he had “pointed out” something on the matter in response to a presentation made by Charles Stewart during the so-called Public Access session”, which commences at 9.30 am, half an hour before the meeting commences at 10 am. Public access presentations are concerned with matters, although entirely relevant to council’s responsibilities, are not listed on the agenda and therefore are seen as not part of council’s business for the day. They are relegated to a less important place and are not recorded. Thus they do not appear on the archived videos of the meetings. The unacceptability of this arrangement should be clear to everyone and I am hopeful that a councillor, who agrees with my view, will do something about it. As well, there is an obvious need for council to post to its website a list of the matters to be presented prior to and at the meeting, by members of the public, once the list is finalised, so that members of the public who are interested in those matters can come along to the meeting or make a point of tuning into the webcast if they so wish. Call for Expressions of Interest for activities on Council-controlled land Council’s website has the following notice calling for EOIs for activities on Council-controlled land: Tuesday 14 February 2017 Council is calling for expressions of interest from community members interested in using Eurobodalla’s public reserves and Council buildings for running markets, holding events or conducting commercial activities. Expressions of interest should include the organisation name, a description and purpose of the activity, the location and dates of proposed use, along with the desired term of the license which can be up to five years. Existing licence holders have been contacted directly and invited to submit an expression of interest.If more than one EOI is received for the same venue and time, a selective tender process will be conducted.For submission details visit our website ... Expressions of interest close 29 March. On the face of it, this notice seems to be quite unremarkable. However, this issue, of calling for EOIs and, if more than one party vies for the use of the land, a “selective tender process will be conducted”, is anything but unremarkable. This process is one ‘created’ by a council resolution on 8 December 2015 (see pages 135 to 147 of the agenda for that meeting). That resolution has since been under constant and considerable scrutiny, to the point of its legitimacy being called into doubt. For a start, councillors did not in fact approve the schedule on which the current Code of Practice rests – as the minutes of that meeting will attest (see page 27) – even though council approval is required. As well, the Code itself was simply “noted” by councillors, not approved. Staff have, incorrectly insisted that the creation of the Code was an ‘operational’ matter and nothing to do with policy formulation – the province of councillors. And yet further, the tendering process that the Code relies on when there might be a contest for the use of the land is completely flawed and at direct odds with the relevant legislation. Refer to section 55 (3) of the LGA. This matter is far from resolved and it is therefore clearly not appropriate for council to proceed with this EOI process, until it is resolved. To make clear just how inappropriate a tendering process is, imagine hockey teams and football teams vying for the use of the same land at the same time, and finding themselves caught up in a tendering process! MATTERS OUTSTANDING The list of outstanding, unresolved matters grows. However, it should be clear to anyone who is aware of the legislated duties of individual councillors and of the governing body (the collective of councillors) that those who are conscientious will be working long hours. There is no end to what needs to be done, and so we need to be understanding if reforms and matters outstanding are taking longer to deal with than we would like. I will therefore hold off on presenting the accumulating list and patiently wait to see what eventuates in the weeks and months ahead. THE AGENDA FOR TUESDAY 28 FEBRUARY Unfortunately, as I write this on Sunday evening, the agenda for the meeting is not available on council’s website and so I cannot provide the usual link. I did however download the agenda last Wednesday – as a matter of habit – and hopefully that PDF of the agenda can be accessed here. The items that catch my eye are the following. Cancellation of council meeting (page 6) I appreciate the reason for seeking to cancel the meeting – there being only 5 of the 9 councillors available to attend the meeting but, still, the 5 does constitute a quorum. As well, council has so much work to get through, as soon as possible. If just one meeting is to be held in March, the agenda at the end of the month will be enormous – far too big, I suggest, for it to be able to be dealt with properly. There are several big ticket items that are coming up – including the Draft Delivery Program, not to mention the gathering list of matters outstanding. To avoid a logjam forming, I suggest that the meeting scheduled for 14 March be moved to, say, Thursday, 16 March. Alternatively, hold the meeting and hope that the remaining 5 councillors will all turn up! 2017 Conferences (page 8) While attendance at conferences can be seen as no more than junkets for councillors and staff, it is my view that, while there is or can be some truth to the ‘junket criticism’, they are nonetheless important for the professional development of all concerned and for the opportunities presented in establishing and maintaining networks. Naturally, we will expect comprehensive reports on the various conferences, to be presented in the chamber. Council Submission: State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) – Coastal Management (page 17) This item, succinctly referred to as the CMSEPP, is significant. It is particularly significant for this shire because, to quote from Council’s website, “The size of Eurobodalla's coastline makes it a challenging environment to manage. With around 110km coastline and over 40 beaches under Council's care and control, we have more coastal management responsibilities than any other local government in NSW. “ This report is a good example of the just how much material councillors need to acquaint themselves with – if not to be completely familiar with. There is a mountain to get through with this report – and all of it important. I have had a quick read through it, including the draft submission and without any competing information to hand, I am of the view that the letter from the mayor and the submission itself, are very much in the community’s interests - especially on the issue of the mapping of vulnerable areas (page 2 of the submission). No doubt there are aspects of the report and submission that will be objected to by those intimately familiar with the details of coastal management as it affects our shire. I would expect there to be at least one presentation to councillors on this item during public forum. Koala habitat protection (page 32) This report to councillors is seeking councillors’ endorsement of the ESC’s submission to the NSW Government, which appears to be entirely reasonable to me, especially the request for an opportunity to review the draft Koala Habitat protection SEPP. Proper community consultation on the part of the State Government – which it boasts of - would require that that is done. Policy reviews (pages 63 to 78) There are 7 policies up for review and are to be placed on exhibition, providing people with the opportunity to make submissions and have their say on them. They include Fingerboard signs – local directional Graffiti removal from non-council-owned property Water and sewer connections Water and sewer rural and trunk mains connection Public interest disclosures internal reporting (page 71). For me, at least, this is a particularly important matter: the reporting by staff, of wrongdoing – and is worthy of a close look. Development Contributions – requests for refunds Risk management Investments made as at 31 January 2017 (page 85) Without looking behind the figures presented, this report certainly presents as ‘solid’ and asks only that it be received by councillors. Budget review for the period ended 31 December 2016 and six monthly performance report (pages 88 to 104) This is a very large report indeed and, again, reveals just how much work is imposed on councillors. There is so much to come to grips with and so, understandably, heavy reliance is placed on staff recommendations without a level of scrutiny that might be considered desirable. However, councillors will have had the opportunity to be briefed on this report on the Tuesday before the meeting – that is the week before, at the routine briefing. But even so, they will very likely have arrived at the briefing without having acquainted themselves, at all or properly, with the material being presented and therefore will not really have been in a position to ask informed questions. The job of councillor is enormous and really does amount to a fulltime job – if it is to be done properly. The report recommends that councillors receive and note the budget review and the Six Monthly Performance report and the “adoption” of the variations to the Income Statement and Consolidated Fund Flow Statement. One would need to put aside more than a few minutes to scrutinise the figures underlying this report.


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