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Another less than ordinary council meeting

Another interesting day for Eurobodalla Council at their Ordinary Meeting of Tuesday 11th of September. The meeting was destined to be controversial from the start with the Mayoral Minute advising that there had been an oversight by Council in not advising some who had made submissions to the Rural Lands Strategy to present to Council the fortnight before. The Director of Planning advised that at the last meeting twenty one speakers had presented and of those eight were amoung those notified. Six others had made submissions and five speakers had not. Councillor Lindsay Brown offered that "the majority of people who weren't notified managed to find out it was an agenda item". Interestingly, when asked about Council's obligation to advise those who make submissions that the item is to be dealt with by Council with a written invitation to everybody who provided a submission is not a legal requirement of the process. with the Mayor adding "this is a courtesy we are affording". Councillor Mayne had asked audaciously of the speakers who were going to present "Why are they speaking then" in reference to the fact that the vote had already been cast to adopt the Rural Lands Strategy with 7 against 2. But speak they did and of particular interest were presenters Dr Karin Geiselhart and Submission Number 88. Dr Karin Geiselhart addressed the Councillors with a string of questions around probity as it relates to the Rural Land Strategy to be advised by the Mayor that the questions were to be taken on notice with answers in writing provided in Due course. The second speaker of interest spoke of the glaring difference between the summary provided by staff of his submission and the reality of the impact of rezoning that Councillors would not have recognised by reading the summary alone. Here in lies a quandary - Do the councillors read (and consider) every submission? We are advised that they do and that the Minister will also before signing off. So let's look at the Rural Lands Strategy - there were 600+ submissions If each submission was 1000 words that would be 600,000 words for each and every councillor to read (if in fact they do as they have openly admitted to being time poor and already up to their ears in other council related reading material barely able to keep up to date with dispatches and what comes into the Councillor's Hub). 1000 words (for an average reader) represents 5 minutes for each submission. At best that is 30 hours of reading. By their own admission Councillors say they rely on staff briefings and executive summaries. 260 of the submissions made by Individuals to the Rural Lands Strategy were summarised by staff in a 101 page document. A further 22 pages of summaries of State Agency issues was provided with a further 26 pages from Community Groups What was revealed between the lines was that it would be IMPOSSIBLE for a councillor to hold their hand to their heart and say they had read and considered every submission prior to their vote. During Public Access the councillors heard a speaker clearly advise them that staff had provided a crucially incorrect precis of his concerns and issues around the impact of E4 on his property. had they actually read his submission they too may have considered there was a divide between the staff precis and the submission's concerns. It was agreed that Councillors be briefed specifically on the alleged disparity. There is much discussed in Council briefings before meetings that never arrives on the floor of Chambers. Ross Hayward of Broulee reminded Councillors of a General Manager back in Eurobodalla's history who said that the chamber should be about the final performance with all the dress rehearsals done and all the fights in the back rooms sorted. While this might make for good archive history it makes for poor democracy. It is understood for example that questions during back room briefings around the possibility of Council already having at hand development applications with house plans awaiting Ministerial signoff of the Rural Lands Strategy may have ruffled some feathers. It is hearsay and perceptions like this where Clrs Mayne, McGinlay and Constable are able to bring this out in the open to the chambers for transparency, especially in light of the continued allegations that Council might be fast tracking the Rural Lands Strategy for fear that a State Labor Government will not sign off on it. With six hundred submissions to read the Minister might take some time - or will he rely on a precis with dispensed comments drafted by his own time poor staff? Corrunna Forest was represented during the meeting by John Ramsey who encouraged Council to meet with Forestry and ask the big questions on why they insist on harvesting from the Corunna forest and at best could they contain the imminent destruction of the forest so that it did not repeat the carnage that was more than evident behind Mogo. Council took a 10 minute break and returned to the chamber to advise that a meeting between Council and Forestry will be conducted next Tuesday to discuss the Corunna Forest logging with Councillor Brown foreshadowing discussions of forestry harvesting throughout the region and the impact such actions have on the community and on tourism. Mr Ramsey advised the meeting that the Member for Bega had not yet responded to an invitation to visit the location of the logging. The Spotted Gums in Corunna State Forest, or Corymbia Maculata as the genus is known, are highly sought after by the construction and paper industries.

One of the Elephants in the room raised its head during Public Forum presentations Council had heard from a few speakers and those who spoke for 5 minutes found themselves, as per meeting protocols stopped mid word and advised "their time was up however there was a possible extension of a further three minutes if Councillors agreed" Council watchers are well aware that Brown, Thomson, Tait and Pollock very rarely vote to allow an extension of time and that the Mayor is most often a nay-voter as well. Those who continue to put up their hand and support an extension are Mayne, McGinlay and Constable. This was pretty much the case on Tuesday with Councillor Nathan absent. The vote for extension was lost in the most part with a vote of five to three. In exasperation Councillor Mayne asked the question "why do we bother to suggest a further 3 minutes when we then deny it to them?". There were two speakers on the day that arrived at the end of their five minutes. When the vote to allow an extension was put it was surprisingly four - four with Councillor Tait raising his hand to join the Outsiders support an extra three minutes to hear more from the presenter. On both occasions though the extension was NOT granted. Those in the gallery and watching via live streaming would have seen four hands aloft and four down. A draw. What they may not have been aware of is that under Council's Code of Meeting Practice the Mayor has a casting vote in such a situation. With a four all draw the Mayor on two occasions announced the loss WITHOUT stating she was using her casting vote. The Mayor was matter f fact on the day reminding Councillors that under the same Code they had to raise their hands to vote otherwise a no-hand would register a no vote. In handing out such a reminder it might be an opportune time to remind the Mayor, Councillors and the public that: Code of Meeting Practice 13.2 Each councillor is entitled to one vote on each Motion that comes before the meeting. 2. If the voting on a Motion is equal, the Chairperson has a second or “casting” vote. The legislation does not specify how a casting vote is to be used. It is a matter for the Chairperson as to how they will vote, after taking into consideration all relevant information. They do not need to vote the same way on their first and second vote. 3. Should the Chairperson decline or fail to exercise a casting vote the Motion being voted upon would be lost. One way or the other, though it is unwritten, the Mayor SHOULD have advised the meeting as to why a split vote was overturned - the Mayor, as the Chair, failed in the opinion of those watching from the gallery, to advise the meeting of her casting vote or the fact that she had one. Was her vote No? Or did she fail to exercise her casting vote? Councillor Mayne's question does remain - "Why bother offering an extension of three minutes and then voting against it". It has long been suggested that there has been favouritism given to speakers and subjects, warmly supported to extend when there is an opportunity to gush at council whereas, when a subject is a little more "sticky" the speaker is brutally closed down. During one presentation on the day those who watch the replay of live streaming might note the General Manager looking with interest at the stop watch as one presenter raised some "sticky" questions. The draft Plan of Management of Captain Oldrey Park was endorsed for release to the public for submissions. This will be dealt with under a separate article. The meeting ended with an Urgent Matter being raised regarding the design of a proposed carpark at the intersection of Hector McWilliam Drive and the Princes Highway which will also be dealt with as a separate article.

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