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Council sinks to a new low during Public Access session

At today's Public Access session a gallery of five assembled to hear two speakers address councillors during the now, once a month opportunity. Public Access was once carried out before Pubic Forum sessions on the same day as Council's Ordinary meetings. This enabled the community to attend the chamber once, hear their fellow community members address the Council on agenda and non-agenda topics and then witness the council meeting. The current council decided instead to remove Public Access to once a month hoping that the community would forget about it and not bother attending or presenting. To date they have been rewarded with the serious depletion of both speakers and gallery attendees. Both Public Access and Public Forum are optional for Councillors to attend and today's session saw Clrs Tait and Thomson missing. Apologies are not required so no reason was given for their absence. A comment from the gallery did gain a belly laugh when it was suggested that "no-one would notice them missing as they contribute stuff-all". The first speaker was Lei Parker, your Beagle Editor, there to address Councillors on the subject of Conflict of Interest, reminding them of their legal obligation to declare pecuniary and non pecuniary interests. His presentation offered two examples where a councillor might be considered, by a fair and reasonable person, to have a conflict of interest. While the presentation was of a general nature it was evident that two councillors present showed unease and what was being presented. Once presented both Councillors McGinlay and Mayne offered their considered questions around the purpose of the presentation. Mr Parker advised that whist it was an opportunity to remind councillors of their obligations to declare conflicts of interest that specific concerns raised about possible failure to declare a pecuniary and non-pecuniary confict of interest by two Councillor has resulted in those concerns now being passed on to the Independent Commission Against Corruption to determine if there has been a breach of the Local Government Act. Mr Parker advised that ICAC had now been provided with maps, plans, title information and full details supporting the concerns so that the Commission might fairly and rightly determine if such a breach exists. Councillor Mayne asked "what prompts such actions?" to receive the response that there is a community expectation that Council comply with the Act, the policies and guidelines and that the community must, when it perceives a breach, advise the proper authorities. Of interest was the question by Councillor Nathan "Are you aware of the story of Julius Caesars wife?" Mr Parker admitted he was not and had no idea what the Councillor was talking about. It turns out that the lessons of the story of Caesars wife is that 'Those in positions of authority should avoid even the implication of impropriety and that the associates of public figures must not even be suspected of wrongdoing". Without further explanation it remains unclear as to why Councillor Nathan asked the question other than to possibly reinforce that those in positions of authority should avoid even the implication of impropriety, indicating that she may well have comprehended to the concerns being voiced in the presentation. The next speaker was Brett Stevenson who ably presented Councillors a breakdown of the correspondences between the RFS and Council in regards to the deliberations and final determinations of the Minister for Planning. From the outset it was more than evident that most of what Mr Stevenson present came as new information to Councillors as he asked one question after another of their familiarity with the communications and submissions presented by the RFS. You can read the full presentation HERE Most disappointingly a question asked by Councillor Constable indicated that either the councillor did not bother to pre-read the presentation (a requirement now exists that a speaker must provide their presentation a day before so Councillors can read them and develop questions) or that Council staff had failed to advise councillors that the NSW Planning Minister did not sign off on the changes recommended in the Planning Proposal for these high risk lands because he could not do so without the written approval of the NSW Fire Commissioner. This information, while it may have come as a surprise to Councillor Constable, was obviously not new to Councillors McGinlay and Mayne who obviously had read the Planning Finalisation report as well as Mr Stevenson's presentation. For sometime it has been considered that Councillors don't have questions of speakers out of indifference however with the dearth of intelligent questions coming from most it is becoming apparent that they simply don't bother reading presentations nor listening to any advice other than what the staff feed them. Fortunately for Mr Stevenson he was asked a series of solid questions by Councillor Mayne while Councillor Brown mumbled and heckled him from the side, off microphone as now appears to be his norm. . And what of sinking to a new low? That came at the conclusion of the Public Access session where, without closing the session the Mayor stood up and left the chamber. One by one the staff also departed along with most of the councillors leaving just the General Manager, the Minute Secretary, Councillor Constable and Councillor Mayne, who was discussing the session with seven members of the public in the chamber. In an act that can only be described as despicable, the General Manager turned off the chamber lights as she went to leave the room and, in a show of disdain when called out, looked over her shoulder, flicked her hair and left the chamber, much to the amusement, mixed with disgust shown by her indifferent actions, to the councillors and public who remained. As turning off the lights has never been her duty it was clear that she went out of her way to make a statement and to possibly communicate to Clr Mayne to desist from talking with the public members of the gallery. Unfortunately for the General Manager, and for the Mayor who walked out of the meeting without closing it, their actions today towards community members showed once again that there are major chasms developing between Council and the community they are meant to represent.

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