A Mayoral response, scrutinised ; Well, excuse me while I vomit!

The Beagle Editor, You readers might be interested din the following A MAYORAL RESPONSE........ SCRUTINISED!

As the Public Forum session prior to the last council meeting, June 25th, was not webcast, I emailed the Mayor and 6 councillors responsible for its demise, seeking information now unavailable to the public unless they are able to physically attend council chambers. I wanted to know their thoughts and reactions to presenters and to their presentations, as well as any interactions between councillors and presenters.

Councillor Brown acknowledged receipt. Councillor Nathan responded but chose not to provide the information sought. 

Mayor Innes also responded(July 4), and also chose not to provide the information sought, providing instead, her attempt at justifying her decision to remove webcasting of Public Forum.

For the most part, it was a transcript of her prepared address delivered to council immediately prior to voting on the issue. As a transcript, it fails to expose the Mayor’s overly apologetic interruption of Clr McGinlay summing up in order to deliver her address, her self aggrandising preamble to her address, her pleasure in delivering it, her look of disdain and exasperation with Councillor McGinlay as he responded to her excuses and her accusations against members of the public, and the assault on her microphone button, so eager was she to ‘shut him up’ and call for a vote.

On the plus side however, her transcript does allow for closer scrutiny of that which influenced her ‘difficult’ decision to remove webcasting of Public Forum.

1. “Councillors rightfully so, must comply with a mandatory Code of Conduct.......... The same Code does not apply to members of the community who address council.......”

* The Mayor has been advised by members of the community, on a number of occasions, that this statement is incorrect.

Council’s Code of Meeting Practice 10.1 (1) states,

“Councillors, employees and other persons at the meeting are required to observe the Code of Conduct and Code of meeting Practice at all meetings of council.”

Why does she still persist in disseminating this falsehood?

2. “In recent times there has been a disappointing trend by a small group – I repeat small group of presenters who have abused the opportunity to engage with Councillors to harass, bully, make defamatory comments and continually promote misinformation.”

* The Mayor has offered no supporting evidence to substantiate these sweeping allegations.

* Has she forgotten that it is her responsibility to deal with such conduct using procedures in the Meeting Code.

* If the “decision was a difficult decision to make” due to the conduct of “a small group,” why was there no apology to all those presenters innocent of such ‘alleged’ conduct?

Why was there no apology to all those who utilise live streaming/webcasting so as to witness the interaction between community and councillors – the most important aspect of the democratic process at the local government level?

* It seems disproportionate and puerile to remove access to so many due to ‘allegations’ against so few.

* Any “misinformation” given by presenters can be dealt with by the Chair and/or councillors at the end of the presentation when such interaction is permitted. Unfortunately, transcripts of presentations do not allow for such clarification to be made public.

3. “Whilst I believe that this type of behaviour reflects very poorly on those that utilise public forum in such a negative manner, the issue is that it is being broadcast live. Once said, a defamatory or untrue statement is immediately out in the public arena.”

* As for defamatory comments being “immediately in the public arena” if live streamed, solutions were offered by the public: the video can be on a time delay to allow editing or, webcast but don’t live stream.

These solutions were ignored by the Mayor as her address to councillors was prepared prior to public forum.

She had already made up her mind and had no intention of considering suggestions from the public.

Also of note is that other councils don’t have an issue with live steaming/webcasting of public forum.

3. “I do not feel compelled to continue supporting this type of behaviour.”

* Such a statement in a prepared speech by the Mayor/Chair is simply ridiculous. It implies that she has been supporting disorderly conduct, when it is actually her responsibility to quash such alleged behaviour by deeming it ‘out of order,’ seeking an apology/retraction or expelling the person responsible. (Code of Meeting Practice section 5.10 (15) and (16)).

* The Mayor can also avail herself of council’s Unreasonable Customer Conduct(UCC s3.5, 4.6) Policy. This would enable the targeting of individuals responsible for the alleged conduct rather than removing a council service(webcasting) from everyone.

4. “Not live streaming Public Forum will ensure that the views expressed through the process of community consultation, engagement and submissions will not be overridden or devalued by those that choose to address Council at the end of the process...”

* In this instance, as with the approval of any policy, the only opportunities for the public to have input were submissions and presentations, all of which opposed the removal of webcasting of Public Forum and all of which were ignored. As an elected representative, the Mayor is supposed to act in the public interest and represent the views of her community - so whose views is she representing?

* Why has she “overridden and devalued” community input?

5. “Public Forum, along with all Council’s community engagement activities, assisted me with forming my decision at the council meeting.”

*CRAP! The Mayor’s decision to remove webcasting of Public Forum was made well before the council meeting, as evidenced by her prepared speech – a speech which contradicted every submission and every presentation from the public.

6. “I believe that this decision is in the best interest of our community and upholds the values of the democratic process.”

* Well, excuse me while I vomit!


Such a bizarre statement defies comprehension.

* How can removing a service be in  the community’s ‘best interest’?

* What is ‘democratic’ about ignoring public input and diminishing transparency, accountability?

* Of the 3 levels of government, local government is the only one where the “democratic process involves citizens actively participating in the decision making process of government."

Consequently, webcasting of Public Forum is the only opportunity ratepayers have of witnessing the the democratic process where  the community and councillors(as a whole) interact.

It is my belief that removal of Public Forum webcasting was in the interests of the Mayor, councillors and senior management.

Why?

- It removes from the public eye, any criticism of council as well as councillor and staff responses/reactions to it.

- It conceals councillor and staff responses to issues of concern expressed by presenters.

- It conceals the ‘physical’ reactions of councillors to presenters/presentations(eg walking out, fiddling, talking, facial expressions)

- It erases any evidence of misinformation proffered by councillors or staff.

- It removes public scrutiny of the democratic process at work.

- It silences the public, resulting in a one sided viewpoint - Councillors are webcast, the public aren’t.

- Observers of live streamed council meetings have no idea of the views, concerns or information contributed by presenters in Public Forum.       

- It impedes accountability

- It protects councillors and staff by eliminating any evidence of conduct or administrative violations during PF.

The integrity of ESC and community confidence in it, will continue to dwindle until our Mayor decides to take responsibility for community unrest, rather than blaming the community itself.

What she has done is an insult to all community members who make the effort to prepare presentations so as to contribute their views, concerns and knowledge to councillors and ratepayers.

It is about time the Mayor and councillors realised that there are members of our community who possess more wisdom and experience in the affairs of local government than they do, and that the wisest course of action would be to utilise it; not ignore it, conceal it or condemn it.

As a retired teacher, I find it appropriate to offer the following advice:  

When planned lessons/activities go pear shaped, you can’t blame the kids.

You must self assess and ask yourself:

-What went wrong?

-Why did it go wrong?

-What improvements can I make to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

Mayor Innes must do likewise. She cannot blame the community for her own deficiencies, or for those of council. DIDDLY SQUAT!

It has been confirmed that Council’s Public Forum rules are worth Diddly Squat.

Contained within council’s new Code of Meeting Practice and falling under the General Manager’s area of responsibility, the Code was devised by staff and approved by councillors on 11th June.

Community submissions condemned Public Forum provisions due to their impact on transparency and accountability, while endowing the General Manager with the power to stifle community input.

One submission, contributed by Peter Cormick, suggested “it makes perfect sense to exclude public forum from the Code of Meeting Practice, since it does not form part of the meeting.”

Staff response to this suggestion, “the OLG have recommended that the Public Forum form part of the Model Code of Meeting Practice......”

However, it was Mr Cormick’s words that were echoed in the advice supplied by the OLG (11 July, see below).

Needless to say, this advice will necessitate the removal of Public Forum rules from council’s Meeting Code to form a separate code.

This need was also recommended by Mr Cormick,  “I recommend that Public Forum clauses 3.1 to 3.26 be removed from the Code ........ and be placed in a stand alone code of practice document titled Public Forum.”

Staff response to this suggestion, “It is not considered necessary to have a separate Code for Public Forum.”

It is shameful that councillors refuse to consider community input, particularly from those who have proved themselves as being well informed, knowledgeable and experienced in the affairs of local government.

There is no point in seeking community views and advice if it is to be completely disregarded by councillors who always defer to the General Manager instead.

I guess it’s just easier to obey, ‘she who must be obeyed.’

Patricia Gardiner

Deua River Valley

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