11 September 2019

Bega Valley Shire Council flags change to community input at meetings

| Ian Campbell
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Bega Valley Shire Councillors - Bain, Nadin, Allen, Fitzpatrick, Tapscotts, Seckold, Dodds, Griff and Mayor Kristy McBain. Photo: BVSC

Bega Valley Shire Councillors – Bain, Nadin, Allen, Fitzpatrick, Tapscott, Seckold, Dodds, Griff and Mayor Kristy McBain. Photo: BVSC

Bega Valley Shire Council is considering a number of changes to how council meetings run and how the community takes part in that process.

Traditionally the agenda for a council meeting is published on the Thursday before a meeting. Roughly speaking, meetings happen every three weeks on a Wednesday starting at 2 pm.

The first part of every meeting is dedicated to deputations from the community or interested parties on matters arising on that day’s agenda. Not always but mostly, a deputation will result in the matter being deferred in order to seek further information and/or reflect on what has been presented.

The Draft Code of Meeting Practice currently on public exhibition suggests a major shake-up of that routine.

Stirred by advice from the Office of Local Government, all NSW councils are reviewing the rules and regulations that govern the format, tone, and governance around decision making. Locally, Eurobodalla Shire Council is also currently engaged in the process.

One of the significant changes proposed by Bega Valley Shire Council is changing the time of community deputations. In the Draft Code, people are asked to consider moving those presentations to the week before a council meeting, on the Wednesday at 5 pm, rather than at the meeting itself.

Meeting agendas would then be made public via council’s website, libraries, and offices on the Friday before what would become known as the ‘Public Forum’.

Speaking with Region Media, General Manager Leanne Barnes says, “It is vital to stress that members of the public will still be able to make their presentations to Councillors around Council agenda items.”

“As part of the Draft Code of Meeting Practice, and as outlined by the Office of Local Government, meetings are for decision making.

“The proposed changes in relation to deputations allow for members of the public to make [statements], but not in the time allocated for business.”

Council’s draft points to the opportunity for general presentations to be made to Councillors from 5 pm followed at 5.30 pm by deputations relating to matters on the agenda for the next meeting.

“Holding these open sessions later in the day will allow a wider range of people and groups the opportunity to contribute to the decision-making process,” Ms Barnes says.

“Community members will have seen the Business Paper (agenda) and will be able to make comment and provide any supplementary information to Councillors prior to the Council meeting in the following week.”

Bega Valley Shire Councils Code of Meeting Practice is currently up for discussuon. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Bega Valley Shire Council’s Code of Meeting Practice is currently up for discussion. Photo: Ian Campbell.

The amount of time people are given to speak has also been flagged as a possible change. Deputations are currently capped at five minutes with a short extension possible. The draft is proposing a limit of three minutes.

“The three-minute timeframe for deputations about Council agenda items has been placed in the draft for consultation and may be changed depending on submissions,” Ms Barnes says.

The General Manager says the live streaming of the Public Forum/deputations will continue if a new time is adopted. Eurobodalla Shire Council is proposed that only the council meeting be streamed to the internet and not the Public Forum.

While some north of the Dignams Creek shire boundary have raised concerns about the tone and manner in which some presentations and discussions take place at Eurobodalla, Ms Barnes says there are no such issues for Bega Valley.

“Council respects the right of community members, groups and ratepayers to raise issues of importance directly with Councillors,” she says.

“There is no issue in relation to the tone or manner of past deputations. On the whole, the vast majority of people are respectful and committed to presenting their position for Council’s consideration.”

Ms Barnes says there is already a level of discussion within the community about the draft which she welcomes.

“Hopefully a change of time will allow a matter to be dealt with at the meeting, we wouldn’t have to defer it, we’d have time to collect further information if needed and get on with the matter.”

Other proposed changes include:

  • Applications to speak at the Public Forum must be received by 4.00 pm one day before, the person wishing to speak must indicate whether they speak ‘for’ or ‘against’ the item. Approved speakers must register any written, visual or audio material to be presented no later than 4.00 pm on the day before;
  • No more than two speakers to speak ‘for’ and ‘against’ each item of business on the agenda. If more than the permitted number of speakers apply, increasing the number of speakers permitted can be considered;
  • The General Manager or their delegate is to determine the order of speakers at the Public Forum;
  • Speakers at Public Forums cannot ask questions of the council, councillors or council staff.

The Draft Code of Meeting Practice is currently on exhibition until April 30, Council encourages the community to view the document and have a say. Check Council’s website for full details.

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All Comments
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  • Website Comments
Nicholas Eric8:44 am 24 Apr 19

We now have the technology to have people vote on issues directly – any issue be it federal, state or local. Deliver true voter participation & more true democracy than there now is.

It is essential to retain the access for last minute items of importance to be addressed at council meetings.

Caroline Ceylon Bugden10:35 am 16 Apr 19

I don’t agree with reducing the time that people can speak in public Forum
Also not sure about not being able to ask questions of councillors

John Richardson12:06 pm 14 Apr 19

The Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) believes that the impact of the proposed changes to the Code of Meeting Practice will be to directly reduce the democratic features & qualities of our system of local government by directly undermining the authority of the elected council, bestowing unreasonable power on Council’s general manager or delegate, as well as acting to inhibit awareness of community issues & stifle community participation & public debate on such issues. The BVSRRA also notes that the process described by council’s general manager as reported in your article is not reflected in the draft Code of Meeting Practice.
The reasons for the BVSRRA’s position is set-out in its formal submission to council on the issue, which can be found here http://www.begavalleyshireratepayers.asn.au/files/BVSRRA-Submission-re-draft-Code-of-Meeting-Practice—08.04.2019.pdf
The BVSRRA also believes that About Regional’s headline & photograph are misleading, implying as they do that councillors are in favour of the changes, while the draft is still on Public Exhibition & has yet to come before council.
The BVSRRA also believes that the comments attributed to the general manager are inappropriate, as they are clearly aimed to influence public opinion in favour of the changes, rather than encouraging residents to examine the draft & judge for themselves.
John Richardson

Ian Campbell1:03 pm 14 Apr 19

Thanks for your thoughts John – not sure I agree with your impressions of the headline, photo, or tone of the article, but…
Put simply the aim was to make people aware of this discussion and the opportunity to have a say, it’s a matter that hasn’t received much attention and one that I feel is important.
Ian Campbell
About Regional

John Richardson2:40 pm 14 Apr 19

Thanks Ian.
We certainly applaud your effort to publicise the issue.
We also think that About Regional should make a greater effort to analyse council proposals, rather than just reporting the comments made by the general manager or the mayor. Indeed, maybe even editorialise on important issues?
Thanks again Ian.
PS Are you able to activate links when they are posted? It would make material more accessible for your readers.

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