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Councillors make a stand for reinstatement of fortnightly meetings and live streaming

Seven weeks is a long time to be sitting on your hands in politics. While International, National and State governments have embraced Zoom to ensure that the process of governing, decision making and critical actions continue during the Covid pandemic our councillors enjoyed a seven week holiday. While they voted to reduce the number of Council meetings at the onset of Covid restrictions they failed to initiate the directive by the Office of Local Government that said they could continue meetings with Zoom. Councillor McGinlay attempted to have the original schedule reinstated however his Urgent Motion was dismissed by the Mayor who declared she had already closed the meeting (in fact she had not formally closed it at all).

On 24 March, via a Mayoral report, subsequently endorsed by councillors, a number of council meetings and public access sessions, were cancelled on the grounds of minimising the occasions of face-to-face contact meeting situations due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The very next day, however, the NSW Government announced that formal Council meetings could be permitted via electronic media rather than solely face-to-face in Council Chambers. Council’s first ‘Zoom’ meeting subsequently took place a fortnight later on 7 April 2020. At that meeting, it was unfortunate that an attempt by Councillor Pat McGinlay at raising an urgent matter to reverse the cancellation of a number of meetings as approved on 24 March was not heard or voted on. This despite prior notification to senior staff and fellow councillors of his intent to do so. At that meeting on 7 April, the Mayor declined but noted his unsuccessful attempt to introduce an urgent motion to reschedule cancelled meetings. She suggested that, should he wish to move his intended urgent motion, he should do so via the normal notice of motion mechanism at the next available scheduled meeting being the 26th May a gap of seven weeks. Councillor Patrick McGinlay has therefore given notice that at the Ordinary Meeting of Council on Tuesday 26 May 2020, he will move three motions and requests that each of these motions be voted on separately. The intent of these 3 motions is to ensure that there is a commitment from councillors and staff to facilitate a full calendar of council meetings, briefings, and public access events, from Tuesday 26 May 2020 forward until the current term of Council is complete. Under mounting public pressure and as a result of Councillor McGinlay publicly slamming the seven-week gap between Eurobodalla Shire meetings as "ridiculous" and during "a critical period, with COVID-19 on top of bushfire recovery" the General Manager has now prepared a report to present the Council meeting next week suggesting dates and public access dates for the remainder of 2020. Council meetings to remain on ZOOM until further notice: The General Manager says in her report "For the safety of our community members, Councillors and Council staff, council meetings will continue to be held on the video platform Zoom and webcast via the internet until a direction is provided by the NSW Government to resume face to face meetings. "The Public Forum session and Public Access sessions will also be conducted on Zoom. Members of the community wishing to participate in these forums must have the necessary technology to connect to Zoom. "Approved speakers will be provided with the weblink to connect to the Zoom meeting. If residents do not have the necessary technology to connect to Zoom, Council will accept a written copy of their presentation, which will be provided to Councillors along with the approved list of speakers for their information and consideration. "If community members wish to listen to these sessions via Zoom, please contact Council's executive services office to register. A weblink will be provided to the registered listeners to connect to the meeting. Listeners will be required to have their video and microphone turned off at all times. It is understood that it is not an ideal situation, however it is necessary to ensure that Council complies with COVID-19 regulations and restrictions." This report flies in the face of Councillor Anthony Mayne who has also given notice that at the Ordinary Meeting of Council on Tuesday 26 May 2020, he will move that Council place on public exhibition for a period of 42 days an amendment to the Council's Code of Meeting Practice so that the Public Forums be webcast. Councillor Anthony Mayne said "The option of live streaming the Public Forum is permissible under the Local Government Act 1993. Unfortunately, while Council was an early adopter of the technology to live stream Public Forum, first introduced under the previous Council, the Council elected to no longer live stream following a recommendation by the Office of Local Government." "However, we have seen a change in the level of community presentations at the Public Forum. The surrounding Councils to the ESC continue to live stream Public Forums. By turning back on the live streaming of our Public Forums, we not only enhance live streaming, but we ensure those unable to watch on the day, can look at a recording of the meeting. "In a new media landscape, live streaming of Public Forums enables the viewing of our community members by the media; thereby enhancing both engagement and transparency for our community. " In addition, it ensures that the housebound, those with a disability, those unable to travel and those who work on a Tuesday, can still listen to the views of their fellow community members." On June 12th, 2019 the Mayor explained her decision to stop live streaming saying to the Bay Post that "her decision to vote against the webcast came down to "responsibilities and code of conduct".

"(Councillors) should not knowingly deceive, defame or bring council into disrepute," she said.

"The same code of conduct does not apply to members of the community who address council in this chamber in public forum."

She said there was a disappointing trend by a small group of presenters who abused the opportunity to engage with councillors and instead used it to "harass, bully, make defamatory comments and continuously promote misinformation, and to also make defamatory and derogatory comments continuously about members of our staff".

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