It was clear right from the start of the Council meeting of Tuesday 10th April that the Mayor was in for a flogging. To start with in Public Access she was advised in the opening of the session by Joan Armstrong that there was a code of conduct complaint against her for raising a Mayoral Minute at the previous Council meeting that many feel was a mis-used of her power that sought to close down any further discussion around the new Mackay Park centre having a 50m pool. (Read Joan Armstrong's Full presentation HERE) Narked up the Mayor then had to deal with a solid telling off by the next speaker, Tanya Thane, who informed her and her Councillors of the regretful decision by Griffith Council of not building a50m pool when they chose to remove the town’s 50m and replace it with a 25m in 1998. (you can read the presentation HERE) The Mayor has developed a habit of offering rhetorical summaries to ensure she has last word and in her response to the pool presenter asked “Are you aware that the pool design will allow for future expansion”? It appears that the general manager has; as she spoke of the opportunities to expand with a sculpture garden at the last meeting. Once again the Mayor was all-but dismissive of the presenters suggestion of a 50m pool saying that Council have resolved to go ahead with a 25m and that is that. The next speaker managed to build further on the seething that was more than apparent when John Mobbs addressed the pool issue further advising the Mayor and Councillors that they did not have the backing of the community. While he was at it he described the failures of Council to communicate and the failure of Council to recognize the public meeting that was held in Batemans Bay in February that drafted five resolutions for them to consider of which they have failed to respond to. The next speaker was Jim Bright of Narooma who then stepped in to crank the proceedings up another level again by describing the persistent reluctance to provide documents on request feigning that they are secret business that can not be made available due to some reason or another. It turns out once again that the reluctance they showed in providing the grant application for the Mackay Park project was unfounded and that the State office said that they would happily provide the document however….. a third party had placed a block on the request …. It was suggested that the third party was Eurobodalla Council. (Is Council the Third Party that wants to keep public information from the community?) This example now sits beside a string of other examples of where Council has refused to provide documents that have been requested only to be told by another body to release them. The final speaker (Lei Parker – The Beagle Editor) in the Public Access session then continued with the community onslaught in advising the Mayor and the Councillors that a class action Code of Conduct had been raised against the Mayor, describing exactly why it was raised stating that in the opinion of 33 signatories the Mayoral Minute was NOT Urgent, was of a routine nature and that it was 15 pages long for which Councillors would have had little time to digest its contents. Both the Bay Post reporter covering the meeting and members in the gallery witnessed the response of the Mayor capturing Liz Innes saying: “Are you aware that leading up to councillors making a decision we have a number of meetings, and councillors are absolutely given the opportunity to ask questions of anyone they see fit?
“I absolutely disagree with you that councillors had a lack of time.
“That is my opinion and I am entitled to it – as I am entitled to submit a mayoral report. (Note quotes above are as evidenced in this Bay Post report republished here under Fair Dealing for the purpose of reporting news) Unfortunately Public Access sessions are not live streamed nor recorded however in this instance the Bay Post reporter has captured the Mayoral opinion that councillors were well aware of the elements of the Mayoral Minute and apparently had been for some time. If that is the case then the public can ask once again “Why wasn’t this Mayoral Report that had no Urgent items and was of routine matters already well known to Councillors raised in such a way that the community were denied the opportunity to talk to it ?”
Any public presentation to Council has the speaker first deliver their presentation in a five minute period with a possible extension of three more which is determined by a vote. Councillors Brown and Thompson have made it very clear that they do not support any extension of time and do not vote for it Pollock rarely does as well however McGinlay, Mayne and Constable are supportive of the democratic process and will most often vote for an extension with the Mayor using her casting vote. The last speaker used his granted three minute extension to drive home that the code of conduct was now with the Office of Local Government for their determination. Note that a presenter is only allowed to present – it is one way traffic – if they say anything else they are closed down with the Mayor turning off their microphone – on the other hand Councillors are only allowed to ask questions. What we saw however from the Mayor was an interesting variation of the rules where Madam Mayor, now noticeably ropable chose to chastise the final public access speaker in a rhetorical rant and when asked finally by that presenter if there was a question she framed a token one and then continued with her castigations and excuses. The excuses didn’t need to be made to the presenter. It was made clear that the final determination of the Code of Conduct against the Mayor was now with the Office of Local Government and they will determine if there has been a breach.
All in all the Public Access session was a hammering for Council and a great day for local democracy as the Council, being the politicians and the bureaucrats are beginning to realise that the community are more than willing to come forward and challenge them at every step if they feel it is required.