Days are numbered now for community presentations to councillors and you can kiss good by to live streaming of Public Forum. It has been revealed that councillors have been engaged in long discussions with senior staff and all but convinced that having the public come along and present to them on issues is simply an unnecessary pain in the arse. Staff remind the councillors that there is more than ample opportunity for the community to engage with council and that the community is very well informed and included in all decisions made. There is the council endorsed Community Engagement Framework for a start which they tell us has been specifically "designed as a tool for those at Council who have an interest in and responsibility for coordinating, planning, designing, implementing and evaluating community engagement activities" and "provides guidance for the conduct of best practice and includes Council's Community Engagement Charter." Small problem here.... Did they use the Community Engagement Framework for the highly controversial $51m Mackay Park pool? Nup. Have they used it at all for anything? Nup. Council staff say they encourage submissions and that they widely advertise and promote what they are doing in the local media and on their website. They send out newsletters and go above and beyond inclusion and communicating with the community and hold drop-in information sessions to listen to the community as was the recent example of the Kiosks and survey around the Mackay Park project in Batemans Bay. From the outside Council appears to tick all the boxes of public engagement but if you scratch around at its underbelly you soon discover things are not as they should be. And because of this, one by one, informed members of the public come and present to Councillors in a hope that the wool that is pulled from their eyes is lifted and the rose-coloured glasses and blinkers they wear cast aside. Unfortunately this is not the case and most speakers, if they are brave enough to face the chamber, now come to expect that they will be ignored, that councillors will sit indifferent to their concerns distracted by their phones or iPads, will rarely ask sensible questions and when they do most questions are either delivered as Dorothy Dixers or as ranting rhetoric that pushes at the bounds of denigration, intimidation and bullying. Any intelligent questions that do come from councillors are dismissed by their peers and with a continued voting block of six against three there is little chance that anything offered by a speaker will make a squat of difference to what is an already pre-determined vote agreed to in a back room via the assurity of a staff member that they know best. It is now more than evident that the Council staff do not care for the live streamed Public Forum session that is now part of a council meeting. The recent fiasco of Mr Bernard's Public Forum presentation drew an interesting comment from the Mayor citing the fiasco as evidence of what is wrong with Public Forum. The Mayor has been critical of Public Forum for some time now as she does not enjoy being dressed down by speaker after speaker who enter her chamber to address senior Council staff, councillors and herself on matters of concern often delivered by well informed members of the public who show a knowledge and acumen of their presented issue well beyond that held by the councillors. The bulk of Councillors, the Mayor, the GM and senior staff are forced to sit there in silence to be hammered by one speaker after another reminding the Council of various policies, Acts and obligations that appear to have been ignored or breached. An example of how low the entire thing has sunk came at the last meeting when Mr Bright presented (below). Mr Bright was there to present to the councillors information regarding possible breaches by Council that the councillors more than likely were unaware of. His very matter of fact presentation opened a can of worms that Council simply did not want to hear and certainly did not want recorded on the video record. When he arrived at his five minute mark requiring a vote for a three minute extension he was denied it with a vote against. Vote against by councillors elected to represent the community. Not staff. The community. Voting NOT to hear the rest of the presentation were Councillors Brown, Thomson, Nathan, Tait and Pollock. What didn't they want to hear?
VIDEO: Ordinary Meeting of Eurobodalla Council Date: April 9th 2019 Presentation by Jim Bright
Under MOU with Eurobodalla Shire Council Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia licence. read more http://bit.ly/beagleCC
While the Council claim that the community might use the live streamed archived Public Forum session as a soapbox it is more than evident that the councillors and the Mayor also enjoy the opportunity that Public Forum offers them as is often shown with the Mayor's long winded rhetorical 'questions' and the pre-arranged Dorothy Dixers that are drafted during pre-meeting briefings to ask questions of 'very well prepared' staff who just happen to have written detailed information at hand. Well, we can kiss all that good bye - and also kiss good bye to any video or audio record of such sessions. Presently the Beagle has an MOU with Council allowing it to extract out footage from Council meetings such as the example of Mr Bright above. The Beagle does this to ensure its readers and the wider community become aware of the Council meeting video archives, the live streaming and also the issues that are discussed that are very much in the interest of the wider community. With the proposed removal of video and audio capture of any public presentation to councillors the community will have no idea what was said, what was asked, what was replied and what was agreed and there will be no minutes of the exchange. In future the only formal public contact between the councillors as a whole and the community will be via written submission or via, if they approve, an unrecorded public access session where presenters must provide a written copy of their presentation the day before, identify if they are speaking for or against, stick to the presentation and speak for five minutes with Councillors only able to ask succinct questions if they choose. Closing date for submissions to the Draft Code of Meeting Practice: Wednesday 15 May 2019 My advice - make a submission. It won't amount to anything in the final decision but you might feel better after writing it. And don't expect anyone other than the councillors to read it as it won't be published on the council website and the only mention will be that it was received and your comment was noted.
I hear you ask " Is there anyone else we can talk to about this?" Nup. This is all a done deal sewed up by the Office of Local Government. Done deal unless some of our councillors in the Gang of Six actually change sides and stand up and represent the community who voted for them. But seriously.... that don't give a #$%&*