Having the opportunity to speak during the public access period of Byron Council meetings is viewed as a God-given right by many locals.
So when that right is eroded, even in a small way, there’s a good chance the fur and feathers will fly.
This was certainly the case at yesterday’s full Council meeting, when Council decided to enact a little-known clause that meant a person could only speak once.
In the past a person could express their views on one agenda item and then speak on another item on behalf of a community organisation (such as a local residents’ group they are a member of).
But under the new rule each individual can only speak once, regardless of how many hats they’re wearing.
Thursday’s meeting heard that the rule had actually been in place for the past two years, but that Council had effectively ignored it until recently when one or two community members allegedly began using it as an opportunity to repeatedly slag off councillors or the institution as a whole.
Former Byron Mayor and NSW Upper House member Jan Barham was less than impressed by the move, and she let councillors know about it.
Ms Barham said the change had been made quietly behind closed doors without any public consultation, or any notification to the community.
‘I feel I have been limited and gagged on this and other issues,’ she said.
‘You should be disgusted in yourselves.’
The matter ended with Ms Barham attempting to shout over the top of Mayor Simon Richardson as he repeatedly asked her to sit down.
‘I’m going ask you to stop speaking or I’m going to have to adjourn the meeting,’ Cr Richardson said.
‘Oh, it’s all about you Simon,’ Ms Barham replied.
She then stuck a piece of black duct tape over her mouth to symbolise being gagged by Council.
But the so-called ‘gag rule’ may not be around for much longer.
Greens Councillor Michael Lyon said he supported a return to the old situation and believed there was majority support amongst councillors for this to happen.
‘It looks like there’s a majority of councillors who are willing to go back to the way it was,’ he said after the meeting.
‘I see why people wouldn’t want it that way because it’s open to abuse from the people who just engage in Council bashing.
‘But I believe that you make rules for a just outcome, and I think it’s fair to allow a person to represent themselves as well as an organisation during public access.’