Uncomprehending councillors

Dear Editor,

Today I was entertained in watching part of a live webcast of a council meeting, for the first time. In the same way that a live telecast of a football match is far more interesting and engaging than a recorded version of the game, so too a simple council meeting.

In trying to make sense of what appears to be persistent bungling, breaches, secrecy and unaccountability, not to mention the complicit-by-their-silence councillors, on so many matters but, in particular, the 50 m pool issue, I have now viewed quite a few of the past meetings. Against those viewings, a live webcast has a clear edge: anything could happen. And so when a certain presenter was on the verge of being ejected by the mayor if he did not apologise for what was clearly a boorish remark, it appeared that I would witness some high drama within the chamber. The drama was added to by that particular councillor who seems to constantly spend his time watching the screen in front him, in egging the mayor on: daring her - seemingly hoping that she would be shown up as being unable to control the meeting. In fact, I thought that his chiding of the mayor - as it seemed to me - was quite impertinent.

But the most interesting part of the meeting - and my reason for taking pen to paper on this occasion - was the public forum segment, which was almost entirely devoted to the matter of a code of meeting practice - the details of which would require more time than can be afforded. I was most impressed not just with what the presenters had to say, but also their obvious earnestness - and that they had clearly taken quite some time in preparation and in making the effort to be there. Yet those same councillors I have previously referred to, displayed a disregard of, if not a contempt for, at least one of the presenters - that should see these councillors' immediate dismissal from council.

That matter aside, there were two presenters who stood out. The first - a Mr Bradstreet - who, in an Australian manner that I am still becoming accustomed to (and appreciating), took the liberty of addressing the mayor by her first name - raised matters of impropriety and made quite strident criticisms of the general manager that seem to me to warrant an enquiry; and, in spite of this, he was able to elicit an apology from one of the councillors, for some past sin committed. I will need to watch the archived record to try to make sense of this mysterious mea culpa.

And then here was a Mr Bright - and quite bright he seemed to be - who took councillors through what seemed to me to be some highly relevant and authoritative documents, the contents of which left no doubt in my mind at least that one of the many responses proposed by council to the office of local government, was at clear odds with the requirements set out in one of those documents. Yet when the matter came up for a vote, not one councillor objected to that particular response as recommended by council staff; nor did any of the councillors seek to have the motion amended to take account of the information provided to them by Mr Bright. Given that no one questioned the information he provided, or was able to counter it, it would be reasonable to assume that what Mr Bright had to say, was sound and perfectly correct. Then how and why on earth was what he said, ignored? The only explanation that I can divine is that what Mr Bright had to say was not able to be comprehended by the councillors and that they therefore chose to remain with the security and comfort of simply following the staff's recommendation, without alteration.

This condition, of incomprehension by councillors, appears to lie at the root of so much of the troubles.

Yours sincerely,

James Carroll


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