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Byron Shire
March 5, 2021

Are councillors making legal decisions?

Latest News

Nimbin medicinal cannabis event, March 27

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Fast Buck$, Coorabell

A very strange thing happened at the council meeting last week: I addressed the meeting and the councillors actually took notice of what I had to say! I’m still recovering.

A number of factors combined to make this possible. Firstly, former councillor Duncan Dey had already addressed them on the same subject, making a similar point. Secondly, the particular Council document I was criticising was full of very large and obvious holes. Thirdly, Mayor Richardson, who hates criticism of council staff, was absent.

At issue was Council’s compliance priorities programme, a document that, if passed by Council, effectively gives compliance staff the right to continue what they’ve been doing for another year. The document gives the impression that compliance staff are doing a wonderful and conscientious job.

The part that refers to unauthorised development says that in the past year there were 819 complaints about illegal works. This is an incredibly high figure and the reader longs for details and explanations. However, all the staff report tells us is that there was a single fine imposed of $1,500! It then goes on to say that 735 of those letters were ‘completed’ or ‘concluded’, without in any way specifying what those terms mean.

You might suspect from this that council staff do not want elected councillors to know anything about what’s happening re: illegal development in this shire, or the way staff deal with it!

Council voted to refer the matter to the Strategic Planning Committee. During debate on that, staff member Shannon Burt, the chief planner and author of the document was asked if it would come back to Council for ratification. After Ms Burts’s significant waffling I interjected angrily saying, ‘Answer the question, mate’.

The answer: ‘Yes’. I wondered whether Ms Burt might have preferred to get her document dealt with by the Strategic Planning Committee with no further outside scrutiny. That would have been illegal; decisions of a committee do not take local effect until the full Council has ratified them. (Take note Cr Lyon; the planning meeting you presided over two weeks ago was technically illegal, as will be the next until you put it to a full Council vote.) The Strategic Planning Committee has no power to make binding decisions.


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