'Minds already made up'
Yet another nail in the coffin of council transparency was well and truly driven in at Tuesday's meeting, 11th June.
Seven councillors - Innes, Brown, Pollock, Tait, Thomson, Nathan and Constable - all voted to remove webcasting of community presentations to councillors during Public Forum.
The concept of webcasting was introduced five years ago to improve access to council decision making for those constrained by physical disability, geographic location, work commitments or other engagements.
Councillors have now abandoned the interests of these ratepayers, forcing them to attend chambers if they wish to observe the democratic interface between councillors and ratepayers - a ludicrous requirement in our technological age of devices that can link us with the rest of the world, just not ESC's public forum!
Mayor Innes assures us that we can still access transcripts on council's website - a task comparable and as stimulating as reading a transcript of a debate, an interview or a parliamentary discussion. Missing, of course, will be all 'off the cuff' presentations, elaborations on dot point presentations, interactions between councillors and speakers, as well as the attention/inattention of councillors.
Councillors Patrick McGinlay and Anthony Mayne must be applauded for their valiant efforts to convince their colleagues to represent the views of those who elected them, as evidenced by community submissions and public speakers.
They implored councillors to honour their Oath of Office and "act in the interests of the people of Eurobodalla Shire".
It appears, however, that minds of the remaining seven councillors had already been made up and they didn't give a toss about the interests of people in this shire.
Immediately prior to voting, Mayor Liz Innes read a pre-prepared speech opposing webcasting of Public Forum, blaming her decision on presenters who make disparaging remarks.
Being pre-prepared, this speech gave no consideration to the well informed, well reasoned, robust and impassioned arguments put by several community presenters.
Councillors offered no reasons for their decision or for their disregard of community submissions and public presentations.
By abolishing webcasting Eurobodalla Shire now stands alone, with surrounding councils - Bega, Cooma Monaro, Palerang-Queanbeyan, Shoalhaven and Wollongong all embracing webcasting of their public forums in the interest of transparency.
The question must be asked, was this decision made in a desperate attempt to shut down perceived threats to mayoral and councillor positions at the next election?
Deua River Valley
'Bad decision council!'
Contrary to the advice apparently given to councillors, the Office of Local Government (OLG) in fact encourages councils to adopt Public Forums to be part of Council's decision making process - all through the Local Government Act, engagement and consultation with the community is encouraged and the OLG says that the public forum input should form part of the decision making process, but not necessarily actually a part of the council meeting proper.
The OLG guidelines do not advise against live streaming or video recording the Public Forum in fact all 5 of our neighbouring councils, like around half the other councils in the state, do telecast and retain videoed public forum sessions as records of proceedings.
What we saw on Tuesday, though, was blatant evidence that a bloc of councillors had seemingly decided which way to vote before hearing submissions from members of the community or participating in a decent debate within the meeting itself.
Mayor Innes referred to a small number of presenters who could create problems - that's a problem of her own making, it could be said, and in any case Council has a procedure for handling "difficult customers" which could be invoked rather than resorting to the disgraceful decision made on Tuesday, despite the valiant efforts of the two truly democratic and altruistic councillors.
Councillors when taking their oaths undertook to "faithfully and impartially carry out the functions powers, authorities and discretions vested in me under the Local Government Act 1993 or any other Act to the best of my ability and judgment". If what we saw on Tuesday is the best of their ability and judgment, then heaven help us!
Jeff de Jager
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