Clarence Valley Council has flagged significant changes to how it handles petitions in a review of its code of meeting practice.
At the October council meeting, Cr Jason Kingsley, seconded by Cr Sue Hughes, gained the support of his fellow councillors to increase the number of minimum signatories on a petition to council, from the 20 recommended by council staff, to 100.
There was no debate on this point, which was one of a raft of proposed changes.
If the proposed criteria for petitions are adopted, the council will only accept “written petitions from persons that have a direct interest in the Clarence Valley Local Government Area, such as residents, landowners, and business owners”.
Petitions compiled online will not be accepted; instead, petitions will have to be made on a prescribed paper form available from the council’s website.
A petition will have to: identify the subject of the petition; identify the principal petitioner; and, include the name, address, phone number, or email address, and signatures in original writing of each of the petitioners.
Further, “the subject of the petition must be limited to items” that the council has responsibility for or control of.
“If the petition relates to a matter over which Council has no responsibility or influence, Council will return the petition to the principal petitioner and, where possible, provide information as to where the petition should be re-directed,” the draft meeting code states.
“Petitions that are vexatious, abusive, propose action that is unlawful, or are otherwise inappropriate will not be considered.”
Meanwhile, John Hagger, the convenor of The Clarence Forum, an online Facebook site “dedicated to providing a platform for ideas dedicated to enriching our Valley”, says the proposal “could inhibit and prohibit healthy interaction between residents and the council”.
“It’s not in keeping with the modern world where online petitions are the norm,” he said.
To further illustrate Mr Hagger’s point, 71 Waterview Heights residents from his street signed a petition calling for the retention of Moonbiana Park, which is under threat of being sold as the council considers what actions it will take to comply with the NSW Government’s Fit for the Future requirements.
The council is amid considering what it will sell to raise revenue: one course of action is the disposal of ‘pocket parks’.
Coincidentally, this petition has been the subject of some argy bargy between Mr Hagger and the council.
Mr Hagger insists that his petition should have been officially tabled at the October council meeting at point 8 of the business paper, which calls for the “tabling of reports and petitions” – the business paper said there were “nil” items.
The council’s executive manager (Organisation Performance & Governance), Kristian Enevoldson, wrote to Mr Hagger, stating that his petition had been tabled “in relation to an item of business on the agenda (Roads to Sustainability Survey Results), [and that] the petition was included with the other submissions as a combined attachment rather than being reported separately (as per Cl 6.14 of the Code of Meeting Practice)”.
Clause 6.14 states: “If a report on the subject matter of the petition is already in the Business Paper then the petition shall be merely tabled at that meeting.”
Nevertheless, Mr Hagger’s petition and another from 115 Angourie residents objecting to the proposed eight per cent special rates variation over each of the next five years are cited in yesterday’s business paper as such: “Notification of petitions previously received and presented (tabled) at Council Meeting on 20 October 2015 at Item 12.052/15.”
The proposed code of meeting practice is on exhibition; submissions close 4pm Friday, January 15, 2016.