Last week’s Echo editorial perfectly encapsulated the mood in our Shire – we need to pull together and collaborate.
Couldn’t agree more. As a Byron shire councilor, I’m finding that more and more residents, businesses, community groups, council staff and Councilors are seeing that life in the Shire is not black or white, and that reverting to the adversarial style that comes from conflicting ego’s and ideals are tiresome and in fact unproductive.
What connects us far outweighs our divisions. So from a Council position, I see it as imperative that we create the space for what the editorial called ‘SMART UNITY’ – by Councilors being committed to Council transparency and accountability to the community.
Easily said – but how? Over the four years of serving Council I see 4 key ways that we can do this: Webcasting and video recording council meetings; creating ongoing community forums; changing meeting times; being less accepting of documents being deemed ‘confidential’ – all to maximise clarity and trust.
Some Councils already webstream or provide video recordings of meetings to residents, like Lane Cove, Warringah (since 2005), and recently the Gold Coast. With webcasting, residents are able to view Council meetings live, regardless of their location. This enables a better understanding of how decisions are made and the issues involved in reaching decisions. Webcasting will enable greater community consultation and engagement. In 2009 I attempted to initiate webcasting or video recording of meetings. Staff recommended against it, mainly due a perceived potential for liability for Council staff, councilors and others speaking at meetings, (as they were not protected by parliamentary privilege and the council would not cover costs of any defamation actions arising from a live broadcast.) This spooked Councillors not to support the initiative.
I believe it is worth trying again as soon as the new Council begins – an upgrade of existing equipment in the Council Chamber is due now anyway, so the timing is perfect. Current cost estimates for initial set up ranges from $2000-$5000, with on going costs from as low as $50 per month, as with Lane Cove Council. Liability fears can be ameliorated with disclaimers on the Council website and in the Chamber, and heaven forbid, it may lead to Councillors and members of the public thinking more before speaking in the Chamber.
Changing our Council meeting times so they occur at night, when 89 % of residents who work in the Shire can attend, is another way to be accountable. I moved this twice during the current term of Council. As most of the current councilors don’t work, they voted against it. Noting that most of the current crop of candidates do work, it may be easier to get support this time. I’ll be putting forth a Motion to make this happen, again.
Creating quarterly Community Roundtable forums may bring residents and Council closer. Recently, I initiated a Business Round Table Forum, to allow interested participants to put items on an agenda, and for staff, Councillors and representatives to share ideas. The first forum was a great success. Council listened, considered ideas, shared feedback, and changed some previous decisions. The results of this meeting provided more support and engagement with business than perhaps any other single interaction. With this success illustrated, I hope to gain support from the new group of Councillors for a version for community groups to create an agenda, and have a dialogue with Council staff. We can rotate the locations of the meetings to be in different parts of the Shire.
Finally, being vigilant in ensuring less of our agenda papers are made confidential. This will also shine light into all areas of Council.
Councilors acting to get outcomes, being accountable, transparent and being committed to listening to the ideas of residents can help ensure the realisation of ‘smart unity’ within the Shire so called for in your Editorial. Thank You.
Cr Simon Richardson, Greens Mayoral Candidate.