Debating Clarence Valley Council’s (CVC) draft communications policy at last week’s June 22 meeting was fraught from the beginning, due to staff coupling it with the draft Affordable Housing Policy 4.0.
At the outset of discussing the item, Cr Richie Williamson said Cr Novak had “furnished a motion”, so she gets “first crack at it”.
Cr Karen Toms, who had lodged a pre-meeting motion (after Cr Novak’s), said she wanted to separate the unrelated draft policies, however, the mayor, Jim Simmons, disallowed that motion because “in accordance with the code of meeting practice, Cr Novak is the first cab of the rank”.
Cr Novak said she thought Cr Toms “was going to split” the item.
“I’d also like to include a point 1 that this resolution be split so we can discuss the affordable housing policy 4.0 for exhibition,” she said.
Three of the four points in Cr Novak’s motion dealt with the communications policy, which asked to “defer adopting the Communications Policy until the Office of Local Government [OLG] have finalised their Model Media Policy”.
Cr Novak’s motion, if it had been adopted, would have resulted in CVC’s communications policy and the OLG’s media policy being exhibited together before “coming back to council for adoption”.
Cr Richie Williamson suggested that Cr Novak, “move the affordable housing policy first, to go on exhibition for 28 days” – Cr Arthur Lysaught seconded the idea; Cr Novak thanked Cr Williamson.
Cr Novak then asked the mayor, “If I remove points 2, 3 and 4 [from her motion] does that mean the communications policy could still be adopted?”
After a period of off-microphone discussion, Cr Simmons said, “It’s clear to me they [the policies] can be done separately.”
Several councillors then questioned Cr Novak about OLG’s draft model media policy and how long it would take for it to be compiled.
Cr Williamson pointed out that OLG’s May 28 circular said the draft ‘model social media’ and ‘councillor and staff interaction’ policies were in draft form; whereas the circular was calling for “copies of or links to councils’ media policies; and suggestions on what issues and behaviours should be addressed in the [yet to be drafted] model media policy”.
Cr Williamson then moved an amendment to remove points 2, 3 and 4 from Cr Novak’s original motion and replace them with two points that recommended adopting the communication policy, and submitting it to the OLG “as they formulate their model media policy”.
Cr Williamson asked, “Would you allow that Mr Mayor, noting there is no other option available to you?”
After a pause, Cr Simmons said, “I was aware I was going to have to voice some concerns – if [the original motion] was negatived … we would not be able to place the draft affordable housing policy on display.”
Cr Novak asked acting general manager Laura Black, “Do so you see the [OLG’s proposed draft] model media policy as separate from a communications policy?”
Ms Black: “I haven’t seen it or know what it will look like … it could be same.”
Cr Novak: “So any media policy would sit within the communication policy or sit with it?”
Ms Black: “…We haven’t contemplated a media policy per se … [we] do not know what OLG media policy would talk to.”
Cr Toms asked: “We are talking about a communications policy, but wasn’t this policy born from Cr Novak’s [February] notice of motion” to develop a media policy?
Cr Toms said she was “just trying to clarify that this [item] before us” is related to the original NOM, “I don’t know if they are different”?
Mayor Simmons said, “With respect, that’s a nonsense question.”
Cr Toms called a point of order, asking, “Why have we got something [like this, when we] instructed staff to [prepare] a media policy and they come back with a communications policy?”
Mayor Simmons: “You confuse me … if we are going to finish [in time] tonight … I can’t see that we’ll be finishing at this stage.”
During debate, Cr Toms said she objected to having “two policies in one report not linked in anyway” and that CVC staff should be guided by Coffs Harbour City Council’s media policy.
“It’s far better and we should take their lead,” she said.
“I want them separated,” she said, “I want to put draft affordable housing policy on exhibition, but I do not support the communications policy before us.”
When it was clear to Cr Novak that her original intention, to separate the policies and defer the adoption of the new communications policy, she said in her right of reply: “I have no idea how we got here … and even though I support the submission to the OLG … I will not be supporting this motion today.
“…I will submit my original NOM” to the OLG.
In the end, the policies were not separated and Cr Williamson’s amendment of Cr Novak’s motion won the day – councillors Novak, Toms and Clancy were opposed.
CVC does not have a media policy.