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Public forums to be deleted from council meetings

At the October Clarence Valley Council meeting, councillors unanimously endorsed a proposal to make several changes to the council’s code of meeting practice.
Following debate, among the proposed changes, councillors agreed on the deletion of the open forum section of a council meeting.
The current meeting practice allows six five-minute slots for people to make a presentation at the end of council meetings.
Debate on the changes largely focussed on the deletion of the open forum.
While acknowledging that the open forum is rarely used, Cr Karen Toms said she didn’t “want to see the opportunity taken away from the community because it gives them a chance to talk to us in person about things that aren’t on the agenda”.
“I don’t see why it would hurt to leave that there; it just gives anyone with an issue access to us at the end of meeting,” she said.
Councillor Andrew Baker argued that “we now give the public huge opportunities to communicate with councillors and get their point through”.
He said that community members could communicate directly with councillors and that several notices of motion on the agenda were a result of people talking to a councillor.
“In a public forum situation we make ourselves vulnerable to people … turning up uninformed, or not being able to inform us properly,” he said
“… Or worse still, we make ourselves vulnerable to interest groups that might decide to somehow take advantage of this open forum and simply stack the end of meeting for some reason.
“We’ve got an orderly process where people can petition us … I think we give them every opportunity, without leaving us open to an open forum.”
Councillor Margaret McKenna said she was “very strong” against deleting the open forum.
“I’ve never felt scared at a meeting or had problems with people stacking the open forum,” she said.
“It’s rarely used by the public, but frequently, when ratepayers have a whinge to me about councillors not listening … they are happy when they know they have access.”
She said she didn’t agree with the report to council’s statement that the “open forum is obsolete and that deputations do the job”.
The mayor, Richie Williamson, said he “absolutely and totally agree with Cr Baker” and reminded councillors that “this is for exhibition purposes … if we are swamped with submissions with regard to the open forum, I’m open-minded about that”.
Councillor Arthur Lysaught said he was “readily avail to anyone” and that he had received 20 phone calls and numerous emails the preceding week.
Changes to how deputations might be presented in the future are unclear – none are flagged in the document on exhibition: instead, councillors resolved to “review Cl 6.8 (Deputations) with reference to the options discussed in this report” at an undisclosed future time.
Should this occur, the policy would have to be re-exhibited.
Deputations are currently made prior to the committee meeting that is considering the item to which a deputation can be made.
At a recent workshop on the changes, councillors considered the following options: “Having deputations made in writing – rather than orally – and distributed to councillors prior to the meeting; Allocation of a time for all deputations – in relation to both committees – to be considered in a time slot prior to the first committee meeting; Allocate a time for deputations on a day prior to the committee meetings; and, No change to current policy.”
If the new meeting practice code is adopted, petitions will now have to contain the signatures of 100 petitioners.
Previously, the code did not specify the number of signatures; however, the council officer recommended that petitions should contain a minimum of 20 signatures.
Also on the list of proposed changes, councillors who submit notices of motion to the general manager, must do so seven working days before the committee meeting at which it would be tabled – instead of the current seven days criterion.
Submissions can be made by email to [email protected], by post or fax and should be marked ‘Code of Meeting Practice Submission’. For further information please contact Lesley McBay on 6643 0289. Submissions close 4pm Friday, January 15, 2016.

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