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CVC farce-tracks communications policy

Geoff Helisma

Clarence Valley Council (CVC) adopted its first ‘official’ communications policy at last week’s June 22 meeting – but communicating seemed to be the last thing on CVC staff’s and a majority of councillors’ minds.

Technically, developing the policy was put on the agenda at the February 2021 meeting, when the mayor, Jim Simmons, and councillors Peter Ellem, Greg Clancy and Karen Toms supported Cr Debrah Novak’s notice of motion (NOM), calling on “the general manager, Ashley Lindsay [to] develop a draft media policy”, to be tabled at the March CVC meeting, along with the “the cost of implementing the CVC media policy”.

However, that didn’t happen.

Instead, CVC staff tabled a draft communications policy and social media policy at the March meeting; advising councillors that it addressed the February resolution because it was already in draft form in February.

Staff advised councillors that the draft communications policy would “provide governance to the various ways in which the activities of the council are communicated externally”.

In last week’s story, ‘Communication breakdown, the Independent reported that staff dismissed Cr Novak’s criticism of the draft policy with: “Noted … council communicates its actions broadly to a wide audience; it is not contained to communicating with media only.”

The now adopted communications policy describes the ‘media’ as “registered media groups as defined by the Australian Communications & Media Authority”, and communication with the media is “coordinated by authorised [CVC] staff in the Communication Industry & Engagement team”.

Meanwhile, one of the people who made a detailed submission to the draft policy, Helen Tyas Tunggal, was initially snubbed by CVC staff when she attempted to have the record corrected prior to last week’s CVC meeting.

Staff had incorrectly advised councillors, in a summation of the submissions, that she supported the draft communications policy.

However, on the Friday before the meeting she was advised in an email that the “‘Policy Owner’ and the Executive” decided that her “original submission… and the tabular summary of submissions” would not be amended.

“I think that any possible misinterpretation in the summary is decisively countered by the inclusion of your actual submission,” the email stated.

Subsequently, Ms Tunggal responded, asking: “What is the point of having staff collate summaries so that councillors can more easily assess the sum of submissions if they do not truly reflect the content of submissions?

“… The empty response (of no response!) exemplifies my concerns that current processes do not reflect CVC draft policy statement that communications are … ‘open, honest, clear, concise, simple and accessible’.”

Ms Tunggal also emailed her concerns to several councillors and, come the morning of the CVC meeting, the CVC staff’s assessment regarding her “support for policy” was amended to reflect her submission.