A change in how the public addresses Bega Valley Shire Council prior to a meeting will come into effect from June 26.
Council’s around New South Walse have been reviewing their ‘Code of Meeting Practise’ on the back of a directive from the Office of Local Government. Roughly speaking the Code governs the format, tone, and governance around decision making and meeting practise.
As part of the same process, Eurobodalla Shire Council voted to scrap the webcast of it’s Public Forum prior to meetings earlier this month.
Cutting the live stream was never mooted by Bega Valley and will continue, however, councilors did wind back the original plan following community feedback.
The first part of every meeting has historically been dedicated to deputations from the community or interested parties on matters arising on that day’s agenda.
In the Draft Code that was exhibited, people were asked to consider moving those presentations to the week before a council meeting, rather than at the meeting itself.
The length of time people are given to speak was also flagged as a possible change. Deputations are currently capped at five minutes with a short extension possible. The draft proposed a limit of three minutes.
Both those proposals sunk.
“Deputations will still be five minutes and they will still be streamed to the internet but they will now take place at midday on the same day as a council meeting, rather than at 2 pm as part of the meeting, ” Mayor Kristy McBain says.
Not always but mostly, a deputation would result in the matter being deferred in order to seek further information and/or reflect on what has been presented.
Cr McBain says one of the reasons behind the change of time is to limit deferrals so that decisions can be made on the day.
“Hopefully there will be less deferrals because there will be time now to take input and advice from staff if new information is raised in the deputations,” she says.
“Staff will be able to go away and give us that information prior to the commencement of the [formal] council meeting at 2 o’clock.
“Submissions from the community and feedback from councilors felt that moving deputations to the week before a meeting was too far removed from the meeting and problematic for people who wanted to give a deputation and for councilors.”
Perhaps the biggest change to the Bega Valley’s Code of Meeting Practice is a limit on the number of speakers allowed.
From council’s next meeting only three speakers for and three against a recommendation will be allowed.
“However, if we have a lot of people who do want to speak on an issue that can be changed in consultation with the Mayor and General Manager,” Cr McBain says.
“A lot of the time people are raising the same issues and that can cut into the meeting time. Having said that though Bega Valley has a long history of allowing people to speak at meetings, I am not aware of anyone ever being cut off.”
Going forward, people wanting to speak at the new Public Forum need to register before 4 pm the day before.
“And the general practise has been to provide your speech in writing to staff, who in turn provide it to councilors.
“Following the speech councilors have the opportunity to ask questions.”
When it comes to addressing council, Cr McBain accepts public speaking is not something most are comfortable with.
“Please don’t worry, councilors are also members of the community, we understand that people get passionate about particular issues or about something that affects their everyday life, we might not agree with everyone all of the time but council needs to hear the voices of the community.”
To keep track of council meeting dates, times and agendas visit council’s website.