There was considerable discussion on the front steps and in the foyer during the half hour break of Eurobodalla Council's meeting on Tuesday. The public had been ordered to vacate the gallery while the councillors went into confidential discussions over the Mayoral Minute to consider co-funding a report to be carried out on the Wharf Road, Surfside, erosion and reparation. One of many interesting discussions outside was the observation that the Mayor takes liberties with her mayoral/chairperson powers when confronted with speakers during Public Forum who challenge her and her council. The case in point was the presentation that morning by Ian Hitchcock on the Wharf Road issue that saw the mayor ask her questions of Mr Hitchcock once he had finished presenting, as she has a right to.
It was noticed however that she eventually asked her question in her round about way that now typical begins with a condescending preamble winding up to by rote rhetorical discourse that then eventuates into either a tirade or at least some softer pointed form of castigation before arriving at usually token and pissant question. While it is true that under Council's Code of Meeting practice, where a speakers address relates to an issue of general interest, the Mayor or General Manager may be able to provide a reply once the presenter finishes speaking. It is true that there is no time frame on this however.... This Mayor has taken that Office of Local Government guidance to a whole new level which is unfortunate as it presents a distinct double standard in that she does not allow her fellow councillors such liberties, requiring them to get to the question, and only as a question, that they must ask in order to communicate with the speaker. The word rhetoric was mentioned several times on the steps. Presenters are not allowed to say anything unless invited to do so via a question. As such speakers are NOT allowed to respond at any point to the Mayor's comments or even to what has been said in a preamble to a question and can only answer the question once it is eventually asked. While the discussions outside in the foyer made laughing comment around the Mayor's grand statements which lead to "nothing questions" it was seriously noted that the Mayor had crossed the line in her questioning of Mr Hitchcock allowing a back and forth discussion to take place that had no specific question. Such freedoms are not allowed of any speaker to be able to reply and question and then respond further. It was considered by those who had witnessed the back and forth between Mr Hitchcock and the Mayor that the Mayor had taken advantage of her position as Chair to air her perspectives to the chamber and to her fellow councillors prior to the Mayoral Minute being introduced for formal council discussion and debate. Under the Draft Code of Meeting practice not yet adopted by Council the new guidance shall be that a councillor (including the chairperson) may, through the chairperson, ask questions of a speaker following their address at a public forum and that questions put to a speaker must be direct, succinct and without argument. It is considered by those who follow council proceedings that this requirement will hog tie the Mayor when introduced as her present style of questioning those who challenge her is neither succinct nor without argument. As the strength builds in those who do present and challenge Council it will be interesting to see if the Mayor is pulled up by her Deputy with a point of order advising she needs to cut to the question. There is no doubt that future occurrences of similar long winded opinionated preambles to "nothing questions" will see members of the gallery calling out "point of order" to remind the councillors of what they consider as fair and reasonable.