Wednesday, June 12, 2013

to gag or not to gag?

report from the roundtable – 11 jun
An interesting and very quiet night at council last night as the Mayor chose to exercise his right under the Yarra Ranges Meeting Procedures and Use of Common Seal Local Law 2007 to not allow councillors to speak to motions if the motion was not opposed.

It was a surprising turn of events given the Meeting Procedures were discussed at length at our private meeting a week earlier on the 4th June where there were concerns expressed about the time frames Councillors took to debate (going beyond 5 minutes) but absolutely no discussion of not being able to speak to a motion should there be no opposition. It has been custom and practice at Yarra Ranges Council, since the return of councillors in 1997 post amalgamation, to allow councillors to speak to a motion whether there’s unanimous agreement or not.

I sat aghast last night, although a very short agenda with only two items, no opportunity to talk to how important they are in their own way. From my perspective it was a poor outcome for local democracy. I believe the public gallery has a right to know why councillors vote the way we do (and the record should reflect that too – all council meetings are recorded).

As I left the meeting a member of the public said to me “I like to know what the councillors think”, I couldn’t agree more, you have a right to understand why we vote the way we do even if we are all in furious agreement.

To me it looked like we were ‘rubber stampers’, like we had no ownership of the issue and I don’t believe the local law is operating in the best interest of open and transparent government.

I was also concerned that if there was no opposition to a motion, which was the case at last night’s meeting, there was no need for a show of hands, so not even a requirement to physically participate in the democratic process.

Clearly the local law is flawed and needs to change. I will be raising the issue at the next meeting of council on the 25th June, the section concerned (S48 Moving a Motion) clearly needs review, needs discussion by all councillors to provide appropriate guidance to the meeting chair. (NOTE 13 June: Since writing this blog I have learnt that some councillors will be absent for the next couple of council meetings so I will be bringing this issue back to a later meeting in July). I was advised later that the Mayor had changed his mind and would allow the mover and seconder to speak at our next council meeting, however this is a matter of importance to all councillors and we should all have the opportunity to participate in how we would like our meetings to run and the best way to achieve that is through a review.

The objectives of the Yarra Ranges Meeting Procedures and Use of Common Seal local law are to:
  • provide a mechanism which facilitates the good governance of the Council
  • promote and encourage community participation
  • regulate and control the election of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and any chairpersons for special committees
  • control the use of the Council seal
  • generally provide for the administration of Council's powers and functions.
It’s my view that the current provisions do not facilitate good governance and discourage participation by councillors, the community representatives.  

I hope that my colleagues support my motion for a review, the local law is clearly outdated, has never operated as written (up until last night) and needs an update to reflect the current practice at Yarra Ranges. The way it stands at the moment it allows for the chair to exercise the provision to its full extent and that’s not a good outcome.

And for the record, the two issues we voted on last night were Constitutional Recognition of Local Government and the Electronic Gaming Machine Gambling Policy and EGM Process Guidelines. Two really key and important issues in their own way, it’s very disappointing that there was no discussion around either.

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At 12:44 PM, Blogger Samantha Dunn said...

just a quick note, I'll be bringing this up at a July meeting to ensure full participation by councillors.

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Samantha Dunn said...

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