Fast Buck$, Coorabell.
Has anything changed since Ken Gainger walked out of Byron Shire Council a couple of months ago? Not much; certainly the ‘mushroom’ syndrome is still well in place – you know, the one where staff keep councillors in the dark and feed them bullshit. Some things never change.
Staff are currently proposing changes to public access, allegedly to reduce theme pressure on councillors. However the changes put up by Ralph James would at best achieve a time benefit of 10 to 12 minutes per meeting – bugger all – meaning that one has to look elsewhere for the true motive behind this initiative.
Here are some highlights of my submission against the proposed changes.
Coucillor Spooner has complained that Byron Council has the longest meetings of any council in NSW. It’s long been abundantly clear to me that the main reason for this is that Council meetings are held too infrequently to deal with the amount of Council business generated in this hothouse shire. Accordingly Council could easily reduce the per-meeting load by increasing the number of meetings, duh.
Mr James might have canvassed the above, and provided comparisons with other councils in terms of: a) The frequency of council meetings; b) The number of items on the agenda; c) The typical amount of blah blah blah by individual councillors (our lot tend to prattle); d) The amount of decision-making delegated to staff.
Without such comparative information Mr James’s report is at best a waste of ratepayers’ money. At worst it is an attempt to garner councillors’ resentments and direct them at public access, in particular the role Matthew O’Reilly and I have played in giving councillors crucial information.
What really terrified staff, however, is public questions. I’m quite sure that it was Ken Gainger who put Simon Richardson up to abolishing public questions some years ago. Currently we are entitled to one question per meeting, so I got pretty steamed up when staff provided their sometimes evasive and misleading responses, such that my question is essentially wasted.
Now it’s part of the meeting code that if staff fail to provide a response at the meeting, they are obliged to publish the response in the next agenda. That in turn means that I then get another chance to raise the issue by complaining about staff evasiveness. Ken Gainger hated this, and in the last four months of his tenure, in my opinion in contravention of the code, Council refused to publish staff responses in the agenda – not just mine but also those of several other people – which denied the second opportunity to raise the issue.
Mr James’s report seeks to formalise this evasion by changing things so that answers to questions appear only in the minutes, not in the next agenda. The minutes of Council meetings are documents that almost no one ever reads.
In other words, Mr James’s efforts do not reduce councillors’ loads but do preserve the staff hegemony over information and protect the staff from accountability. There will be less opportunity for people like Matthew and I to tell councillors what the staff should but are not telling them, and more opportunity for staff to provide bullshit instead of proper answers to questions.
Like I said, nothing has changed. You’d think though that staff might have realised that evasions simply point to vulnerabilities, to something they are hiding.