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Is it "All hands on Dick" for Eurobodalla Councillors as the rest of the world evolves

At a time for "All hands on Deck" by our councillors they have voted to halve the number of council meetings and to remove Public Access sessions. While the community looks for leadership and engagement over what will be an economic massacre for the region our councillors have instead decided that they only need to do half the yards while still expecting their stipend. As the rest of the world is turning to technology to continue "business as usual" our councillors voted last week to half the amount of Council meetings before caretaker provisions commence, not hold public access sessions and to remind the community they can contact Councillors with issues that can be raised with staff during briefing sessions. The Mayoral Minute came about due to the increased restrictions around gatherings in indoor spaces and the need for social distancing. Little did she know that within 24 hours meetings of councils and committees of councils were not exempted from the order as “essential gatherings”. The Mayoral Minute delivered by Mayor Innes on the 24th of March that saw a unanimous decision by councillors to halve Council meetings came just hours ahead of the Local Government Act being amended to allow councils to hold official meetings electronically, rather than physically and that Council and committee meetings can be held remotely, and individual councillors can participate in meetings remotely. An amendment has been made to the Act providing that any requirement that councillors attend a meeting is satisfied if the meeting is held remotely using audio-visual links. Where councillors participate in meetings remotely by an audio-visual link, they will also continue to be obliged to disclose and appropriately manage conflicts of interest they may have in matters being considered at meetings. The amendment also advises that Councillors continue to be obliged to remove themselves from the consideration of matters in which they have a pecuniary or significant non-pecuniary conflict of interest. There are also the additional reminders, under the amendment that where councillors participate in meetings remotely by an audio-visual link, they continue to be obliged to protect any confidential information considered at the meeting and that where meetings are closed to the public under section 10A of the Act, councillors should ensure that they participate in the meeting in a location where it cannot be seen or heard by anyone else. However we now have in place a Council motion THAT Council: 1. Changes the remaining Council Meeting dates before caretaker provisions commence, to the following dates only: (a) 7 April 2020 (b) 26 May 2020 (c) 23 June 2020 (d) 28 July 2020 2. Note that as briefing sessions will not be physically held, Council not hold public access session until otherwise resolved. 3. Remind members of the public that they can contact Councillors with issues that can be raised with staff during briefing sessions. Meanwhile the rest of the planet has now embraced digital conferencing. Of interest will be to see if Eurobodalla Councillors overturn the Mayoral Motion for reduced council meetings in light of the technology available and the critical role that the community expect Council to play during these socially and financially demanding times. But will Eurobodalla Council choose to embrace the opportunity to reinstate the original meeting agenda, reinstate Public Access and encourage public participation in their meetings. It has been clear for sometime that the intent of the majority of the Eurobodalla councillors is to close down public participation in Council meetings and access sessions by their concerted efforts to add layers of difficulty to the process of presentation and to remove live streaming of Public Forum. While the amendment to the Act also provides that the requirement under section 10 of the Act that members of the public be permitted to attend digital meetings to present at Public Forums is satisfied if the meeting is held remotely using audio-visual links the amendment also provides that the requirement under section 10 for meetings to be open to members of the public is satisfied if a webcast of the meeting is made public. This means that the requirement under section 10 of the Act for members of the public to be permitted to attend meetings can now be satisfied by livestreaming the meeting using an audio-visual link. While the inclusion of the public presenting at Public Forum during a council meeting is allowed it must be remembered that Eurobodalla Council is the ONLY Council in the South East of NSW that DOES NOT live stream presenters for fear that they might "grandstand" or say something defamatory. So what will our Councillors chose to do? No doubt it will all be discussed behind closed doors tomorrow, March 31st. Unfortunately the public will have no opportunity to address councillors on the matter as they have all now agreed to cancel the scheduled Public Access session before the briefing.

Photos: ESC - Missing from this mockup session are the General Manager and YOU

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