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Council prefers to throw contractor under bus rather than take responsibility

In an interesting turn of events Council has decided it would throw one of its contractors 'under the bus' rather than accept responsibility of the recently exposed editing of the May 26th 2020 Council meeting that saw four minutes and forty seconds of video deleted. When asked if Council staff had deleted the video that appears on Council's website Council advised that the management of Council meeting videos is done by a third party and that they had edited the video without any direction or authorisation by Council. The third party, it has been discovered, is Interstream, the primary contractor and software and hardware supplier for council meeting webcasting services across Australia. Of concern, in establishing that it was a contractor who deleted the footage, is the fact that in doing so they have brought the Eurobodalla Council into disrepute as the video did not carry any statement that it had been manipulated and was not a true and accurate record of the meeting as per the NSW Office of Local Government Guidelines.

Can a webcast recording be altered before or after it is published?

A webcast recording can be altered after it is recorded (including livestream webcasts) to remove any content that is not suitable for public broadcast or that may expose the council to a potential legal liability. Councils have the flexibility to decide how to edit a webcast recording. It can simply be muting the sound in the recording or removing portions of the recording. The general manager is responsible for deciding if a webcast is to be altered. Before making such a decision, it may be appropriate for the general manager to seek legal advice and to consult with the Chairperson and the other councillors. Councils should include a statement on their website where the recording can be accessed advising users that the webcast has been altered for legal reasons.  This is not the first time that Council has been challenged on its editing of Council meetings. An earlier example under this council was the deleting of 13 minutes of footage during a presentation to council by Mr Peter Bernard. Rather than muting the word "malfeasance" in the recording they stated that they had received legal advice to delete 13 minutes of discussion. Council have lied in the past about receiving legal advice and their reputation for such lies did not calm the waters of their editing actions. One of the most memorable examples of the Council's manipulation of the public record happened on June 26th 2012. TRANSCRIPT OF PART OF THE AUDIO RECORDING OF THE ORDINARY MEETING OF THE EUROBODALLA SHIRE COUNCIL ON 26 JUNE 2012, CONCERNING COUNCIL’S IN-PRINCIPLE APPROVAL OF THE USE OF THE NAROOMA SPORTS AND LEISURE CENTRE BY THE SOUTH COAST HUNTERS’ CLUB.

Note: The following abbreviations for names are used: Mayor Fergus Thompson, FT; Councillor Chris Kowal, CK; Councillor Keith Dance, KD; Councillor Rob Pollock, RP; Councillor Lindsay Brown, LB; Councillor Allan Brown, AB; Director of Infrastructure Warren Sharpe, WS; “?” indicates that the speaker is not able to be identified.

The recording commences with:

FT: Good morning and welcome .... press either of those .... you have five minutes ... please sit. [Commencement of Public Forum. The mayor is explaining the operation of the microphone to the first presenter. The minutes show that all councillors were present at the commencement of the meeting.]

At 1 hour and 53 minutes into the meeting, Agenda Item O12/117, concerning the proposed demolition of the Kyla Community Hall, is being discussed:

CK: ... a retrograde step to demolish the hall and let go of the land ...

FT: ... if you retain it, do you fund the maintenance of it?

KD: ... it’s done and dusted ... no one’s gonna look after it ... come on ... let’s go with it.



. [The motion was carried]

WS: ... if you understand my meaning. [Warren Sharpe elaborating on an issue raised in relation to the hall]

Immediately after these words by Warren Sharpe, on the issue of the demolition of the hall and its replacement, Rob Pollock spoke, commencing at 1 Hour 58 Min into the meeting.

Above: The MINUTES of June 26th 2012 indicate MINUTE 12/148 MATTER OF URGENCY E12.6277 12/148 MOTION Councillor Rob Pollock/Councillor Keith Dance THAT the proposed use of the Narooma Sports and Leisure Centre by Huntfest be dealt with as a matter of urgency. (This Motion on being put was declared CARRIED). The words above never happened. The Urgent Motion did NOT happen. At timestamp 1:52:37 FT advises "As a matter of urgency Councillor Pollock wishes to bring forward a matter as well". The Matter of Urgency Motion as minuted above NEVER happened yet the official minutes of Council say it did. The issue at hand is that BECAUSE there was NO MATTER OF URGENCY raised to deal with the proposed use of Narooma Sports and Leisure by Huntfest the following Motion that was NOT on the AGENDA should NOT have been permitted. USE OF NAROOMA SPORTS AND LEISURE CENTRE E12.6277 12/149 MOTION Councillor Rob Pollock/Councillor Keith Dance THAT Council note its support, in principle, for the proposed use of the Narooma Sports and Leisure Centre by the South Coast Hunters Club for Huntfest. It is clear that the MINUTES were manipulated to appear as if the Urgent Motion had taken place when in fact the audio transcript accessed under Freedom of Information clearly shows that there was NO Urgent Motion put forward, voted on and declared.

Audio: Listen to the FULL meeting HERE or from 1:58m HERE

RP: Could I just have the official name of the proposed use of the, the youth and leisure centre at Narooma, please.

?: Um ... Huntfest

RP: Can I suggest that the proposed use of the youth and whatever centre ... [It has been a matter of standard practice for there to be a briefing session between staff and councillors prior to the commencement of a meeting and it is likely that Cr Pollock raised the matter, in some form or other, at such a briefing session. Hence the use of the understood “proposed use”]

?: Sport and Leisure Centre [a councillor at that meeting has since said that at least one representative of the South Coast Hunters’ Club was present in the gallery at the time the matter was brought up by councillor Pollock; and it is probable that this response was made by a representative.]

RP: Sport and Leisure Centre, ah, be supported by this council, being aware that the DA process cannot yet be completed but that none of the proposed activities would preclude the positive assessment of that DA. For the determining of that DA.

FT: Is there a seconder? Councillor Dance. Discussion.

?: [indistinct – councillor speaking with microphone off]

RP: Pardon?

FT: ... support in-principle ...

RP: Yeah, I’m seeking words, folks.

FT: And we’re giving them to you. Council indicate its support in-principle of the application. That council indicated support in-principle for the use of the building for that event. [This is the motion being proposed]

RP: The proposed event.

FT: The proposed event

RP: Yeah, well I’m happy to move that.

FT: Councillor Lindsay Brown.

LB: Is it an association or a couple of guys, or what? [This would indicated that Cr Lindsay Brown was either not at the briefing session or if he was, missed this part of it – or that that information was not given to any of the councillors]

RB: Yeah, it’s an association but you don’t need to know or specify that. It’s the proposed use of the facility for the DA. That’s all.

LB: I might have an issue, that’s all.

RP: South Coast Hunters’ Club

FT: Okay. Umm. Councillor Pollock did you wish to say some more?

RB: No!

FT: Your light’s on. um... Councillor Kowal.

CK: This is certainly most unusual, that um ... The hallmark of a democracy is procedural justice; that we pay attention to due process and that we treat that process fairly. We are being called upon here to pre-judge something. We have very little information ...

RP: Can I have ... point of order. Councillor Kowal was late this morning; later than me, later than me, in fact. But this particular issue was discussed this morning [at the briefing?]

FT: Your point of order is it has been discussed and council is aware of the ...

RP: And suitable information was provided to all councillors.

FT: ... of supporting ....yep ...

CK: Um, Id question that. We don’t have anything in writing about that. So, I’m ...

FT: Yes we do.

CK: I don’t. I’ve not been presented with any written material about this matter. There was no written material left on my desk about this matter and I was here for the start of the meeting. So, this ...the ...some of the likely events and issues ... (made indistinct by interruptions)

AB: Point of order

FT: Sorry, I have a point of order. The point of order being?

AB: Councillor Kowal mentioned democracy as being democratic [!!]. Where haven’t we been democratic? And where has democracy been let down?

CK: Calling a point of order every five seconds so that I can’t even get my ...

AB: I will councillor Kowal ... what you’re saying.

FT Sorry, I do support the point of order. There hasn’t been a denial of democratic ....

CK: Well, in that case I will be allowed to finish my presentation.

FT Councillor Brown! You don’t have an audience! Right. Thank you.

CK: I thought there was only supposed to be one person speaking at a time. Um ... many ... This proposed event is likely to be of great concern to many in the community. It, um there have been many issues brought up with State governments, across many communities in the State who are rightly, extremely, concerned about the types of material and issues that may be presented ... [interrupted – indistinct] at an event like this. I could ...

?: ...councillor Pollock.

FT: Order! Order!

RP: Well, it’s no good talking about ...

FT: Order. Thank you.

FT: You will allow the speaker to be heard, please. Thank you.

CK: There is um... This is a very, very contentious matter in the eyes of the wider community. I would suggest. And I‘m certainly not in a position to be able to support such a letter [matter?] given I have no written information available to me and what I understand the matter to be about.

FT: Thank you. Councillor [Lindsay] Brown.

LB: Thanks Mr Mayor. I understand that councillor Kowal must have a philosophical issue with the proposed ... [proposal?]

?: Someone’s got to oppose ....

[Static in the recording]

FT: Something’s interfering

LB: Anyway, this is a community facility to be used by the entire community. We cannot play judge and jury on the use of that. If a group comes along, whether it be the AWL or whether it be the shooters club or whether it be the Coastwatchers, for that matter, who wish to use that facility, it’s available for council to use and we would support any use of the building and any activity that will generate community involvement. And so I cannot see any issue with supporting councillor Pollock’s motion.

Above: the minutes show this motion as an assembly of the discussion recorded above.

FT: Thank you. No further discussion? I put the motion. Those in favour? Against? I declare it carried. Um, I take a motion we restore standing orders. Moved, councillor Dance, seconded councillor Morton. Against? Carried. And, councillor Dance will take a motion that we adjourn for lunch. Moved by councillor Dance. Seconded by councillor Scobie. Those in favour? Against? Carried.

While the above happened in 2012 it only adds to the stream of complaints against Council in how it views and respects official records. The memory of the General Manager's actions around the non-compliance of the Agenda and Minutes in relation to her contract renewal also sits fresh with many of our community. At the meeting of the Eurobodalla Shire Council on 13 June 2017, in response to contrary

submissions by members of the public, the General Manager advised councillors that the

subject matter of the two "Personnel Matter" agenda items (CON17/002 and CON17/003) was not able to be disclosed prior to moving into closed session. In support of her contention, the General Manager claimed that her interpretation of the relevant provisions of the LG Act had been “confirmed by the Office of Local Government”. On discovery, following complaints made by community members, of the way Council had prepared its agenda and the General Managers advice to the councillors the OLG advised “the Office has written to the Council requesting it review its practices in relation to the description of agenda items to be discussed in closed council meetings.” The OLG also found that Council had intentionally withheld information from the subsequent minutes to which the Mayor responded in a Mayoral Minute presented to the ESC meeting of 25/7/2017, relating to certain issues around the closed session of the council meeting of 13/6/2017 saying:

“Advice received from the Office of Local Government (OLG), received Monday 24

July 2017, indicates that this long standing practice is incorrect and the full

resolution adopted by the Council in the closed part of the Council's meeting must

be recorded in the open minutes of the meeting. Notwithstanding it has been a

practice in many local councils.” No apology. Just a statement saying everyone else apparently does it; as if that makes it OK for Eurobodalla Council to do as well.

And you wonder why they don't like Council meetings and Public Forum sessions recorded.