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Editorial Feb 4th 2022

Welcome to this week’s editorial,

The question this week is “How do you talk about elephants in the room if the elephants are sitting there and the rules say you can’t talk about the elephants?”

This week saw the first Public Access session held by the new Eurobodalla Councillors. There were eight presenters to the session that lasted around an hour and a half. And what a session it was. Chaired by the new mayor, Mat Hatcher, the Public Access session was streamed on Zoom for anyone who wanted to tune in. It was a breath of fresh air in comparison to how it had been conducted by the previous council. For a start all the councillors were present. Not only were they present but, with the exception of one, appeared to be genuinely engaged in the presentations.

The new Council will cast their first vote next Tuesday to a Mayoral recommendation that Public Access and Public Forum sessions be live streamed, recorded and archived. This will overturn the shutting down of community engagement that was set in place by the last Council, based on a staff recommendation. This vote, possibly unanimous, is bound to infuriate those who were complicit in the intent to disengage the community from being included and informed in the democratic process; but these are new days with new ways and the new Council is moving forward rapidly to bring the community back to the chamber and to the decision making process in an open and transparent way that ensures them being informed and included.

In time the Code of Meeting Practice policy will also be reviewed and that too will see considerable reform.

For example Councillors and speakers are advised that they are not, as described as an Act of Disorder, to say anything that is likely to bring the Council or the committee into disrepute.

So how does one present to Council raising concerns around apparent failures of process that have seen community consultation and agreement over planned subdivisions made a mockery of, or to reveal that staff have possibly failed in their duties, or taken matters into their own hands, and as a consequence have caused considerable disadvantage to the community, and considerable embarrassment to Council.

The new Councillors will need to reconcile the long term gagging of the community who have been under threat of never mentioning ‘the elephants’ (who are more than often ‘in the room’) with the legislation (LGA Sect 10B(4) )that in determining whether the discussion of a matter in an open meeting would be contrary to the public interest, it is irrelevant that the discussion of a matter may cause embarrassment to the Council or committee concerned, or to Councillors or to employees of the Council, or cause a loss of confidence in the Council or committee. So long as it isn’t a personal attack everything, and everyone including employees, can be challenged, questioned and brought to account. Most likely Congo Road and the proposed Broulee subdivision extension will lead the way with a new transparency.

There are a herd of ‘elephants’ that need to be brought out into the public eye and under a new council the chances are that they will be.

When this happens there may well be embarrassment to the Council or committee concerned, or to Councillors or to employees of the Council, but should it happen I am sure it will serve to restore the loss of confidence in the Council that has brought the Eurobodalla Council to an all time low in public favour and the loss of the respect that it once had well before the last term took office. Let the new days begin.

Until next lei