Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Workshops now an open and shut case

THE first of the Derwent Valley Council's new-style workshops will be held on Thursday night, with the public invited to attend for 30 minutes from 6.30pm. At 7pm the public will be asked to leave, allowing councillors to discuss further matters in private.

The new arrangements were endorsed by all but one councillor at last month's council meeting. They were but one part of a report into establishing a committee system at the council. The report also recommended against a committee system; suggested that consideration be given to an audit committee; and that councillor membership of committees be reviewed annually.

Opening the debate, Councillor Wayne Shoobridge said he was aware of much confusion amongst the public but he assured them there was no ulterior motive to the plan to close workshops to the public after 30 minutes.

Cr Judy Bromfield said she supported the proposal on the proviso that the council resumed its previous practice of publicly advertising the workshops.

Cr Chris Lester said there was nothing secret about the proposal, which was only one of the recommendations before the council. Cr Lester said he could see that Cr Damian Bester was shaking his head. "I ask Cr Bester whether his editor's meetings are open to the public," he said.

Cr Bester had unsuccessfully moved a motion that the council establish an audit committee in accordance with the recommendation of the auditor-general, and that workshops remain completely open. His remarks are on his website.

15 comments:

  1. Oh for goodness sake you silly councillors, what's wrong with discussing things in an open environment without the restrictions of a formal council meeting? If I recall correctly, there is no mention of such thing as a 'closed' workshop in any legislation, so why invent such???? You have a heap of closed forums to discuss anything of a confidential or commercial nature, so come on, clean up your act before the ratepayers really get up in arms.
    Frank

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  2. Spot on Frank, you have hit the nail on the head. Cr Shoobridge may be confused but the voting ratepayers are not. What on earth was Cr Lester thinking by bringing another councillor's job into the discussion? I hope the mayor cautioned him for this by the way! Anyway, there should be an audit committee and definitely the participation and membership of council in committees should be reviewed - what are these people scared of? You ARE expected to work for the monies the ratepayers are expending on you believe it or not. Maxine

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  3. In reply to Frank, The public will have half hour to discuss any issues they may have, the public also have question time at councils meetings, the public also have the ability to approach any councillor or senior staff member for any information they may be seeking. It is worth noting that most councils in Tasmania do not hold open workshops, workshops are a forum for councillors to discuss a variety of issues in an informal setting, an around the table discussion. All businesses, all governments in fact almost any group hold confidential meetings, it is at workshops where we are often presented with information with regards to a variety of issues. These issues whatever they may be, can be discussed without the concern of accidently disclosing confidential information, it allows for a much more robust debate. It is also a forum for councillors to air any issues they may have. It is nonsense to suggest that councillors have some secret agenda, no decisions can be made at council workshops, and all council decisions are made at council meetings.
    In reference to Maxine, Councillor Shoobridge said he was aware of much public confusion, not that he was confused. My question to Councillor Bester was simply to illustrate my point which was that even newspapers have closed meetings, it is when the editor and staff decide what should be published and what should not. It is only after that, that they release the information to the public, and yes the major did caution me. It was my suggestion that committee participation be reviewed every twelve months, a suggestion that most of council agreed with. My reason being, that it gives all councillors an equal chance to participate in a variety of committees, at the moment it is only after an election that a councillor may nominate for a place on a committee, I believe that it will give the public a better and well-rounded council, every councillor will get to experience a variety of committees dealing with a variety of different projects. Finally I don’t know of any councillor who does not work for the monies expended on them, I believe they all take their role as your representatives very seriously. I would encourage anyone to run for council if they feel they can make a difference, I personally find it very rewarding.
    Councillor Chris Lester.

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    1. You are fundamentally wrong in your comparison of closed, secret council meetings and editorial meetings for a newspaper.
      Councils are public bodies and are answerable to the residents. They can not be answerable if there are secret discussions that the public do not and can not know about.
      Editorial meetings for newspapers are activities of a commercial body that is not answerable to the public.
      Such a comparison is deeply flawed and shows that you have a basic lack of understanding around public accountability.
      NO COUNCIL MEETINGS SHOULD BE CLOSED! This includes discussions around tenders and commercial interests. We have a right to know what our money is being spent on, how much is being spent, who is getting it, and what they are supposed to deliver for that money. Residents have the right to know everything the council is doing and all the details of every commitment the council enters into, as any such commitment is on the residents, not just the council members.
      Any other view shows a basic lack of understanding of the democratic process, the relationship between council and the residents, and is a breach of trust.

      I know you find this idea alien and frightening. Government currently thrives on secrecy, and has come to the incorrect conclusion that this is the way it should be. This is wrong, and treats electors and residents with contempt.

      Very disappointed to see any councillor defend secret or closed meetings.

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    2. In reply to johnd, I keep hearing about closed secret council meetings, if you or anyone else feels that this council is committing any breach of its obligations under the local government act then you should contact the local government minister and register your complaint. Your view is your view, but perhaps you should ask yourself this question, why was it written into the act for councils to have the ability to hold closed meetings? Could it be that men and women wiser than you or I saw it as necessary? If I or any other councillor was to disclose confidential information then that would certainly be a breach of trust, it would also be a breach of the law. You are right residents most certainly have the right to know what their money is being spent on and they do, all council expenditure is a matter of public record as are all decisions made at council meetings. It may not sit too well with you, but it is a fact that council operates under the local government act and we are obliged under that act to occasionally hold closed meetings when dealing with confidential maters. Finally let me say, I do not find anything you have said to be either alien or frightening, it appears that you have an opinion around how government is conducting itself and that is of course your right, I don’t share your view, I don’t believe that any of my fellow councillors or myself treat Derwent Valley residents with contempt. We are I believe representing the view of the majority of the residents of the Derwent Valley.
      Councillor Chris Lester.

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    3. Unfortunately, you equate a provision in the act to allow closed meetings with some requirement to hold closed meetings. The provision might be in the act, but there is no requirement for the council to exercise it. Having a closed meeting is purely a council decision, nothing more.

      "Men and women wiser than you and I". I think not. Rather, men and women who can't see beyond the old fashioned view that electors should just be told "we know best", patted on the head, and sent off about their business.

      Confidential information only becomes confidential when someone decides it is. For instance, does the council publish a list of awarded contracts, with who got them, how much they are worth, and what is to be provided? The state government does:

      http://www.tenders.tas.gov.au/domino/tenders.nsf/v-menuMaps/menuAwarded

      The Council does have the ability to make all information public simply by stating to all involved that it will do so.

      Why does it not do so? Because, like most levels of government, it feels that some large part of it's power is derived from keeping things secret.

      Keeping information confidential should not be the rule. Rather, it should be an extremely rare exception.

      Finally, I think you need to divest yourself of the illusion that you have been elected by a majority of residents of the Derwent Valley. A quick look at the election results shows that only 5.8% of enrolled voters felt happy giving you their first preference, and only 47% of enrolled voters felt happy to give all the elected councillors first preference.

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  4. I think you've got it a bit wrong Cr Chris Lester - aside from a designated closed meeting of council, everything discussed by councillors where all are expected/invited to attend should be OPEN - no hypothetical 'accidental' situations or similar withstanding and robust debate should occur anyway - are you suggesting that councillors don't speak when the public is around or only when meetings are closed that they state their opinion or ask questions?? Surely not? As far as the question time at a council meeting is concerned, it really is a farce where a strict time limit is imposed, limit to number of questions, having to put questions in writing beforehand and within a certain time - come off the grass mate, that's not giving the ratepayers a fair go at all. And by the way, the inability of the Mayor and officers to provide information on many of the questions asked is simply laughable - taken on notice indeed! In all credit to you tho, the suggestion to have all councillors participate in different committees is very good, what a pity that only means 'outside' committees and not have a Planning or an Audit 'iternal' committees for example - the nitty gritty of councillors' work on almost every other council. Sorry, I think I am heading towards the amalgamation camp for the future of this municipality.
    Les

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    1. In reply to anonymous, I respect your right to disagree with my views; please be aware that all our meetings are in accordance with the local government act. Most residents of the Derwent Valley do not attend council meetings, they have elected by popular vote the members of council to represent them; I believe to that end we are doing a good job.
      Councillor Chris lester.

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    2. Cr Lester ... Given that only 57.72% of Derwent Valley electors actually returned their ballot papers, I don't think I would go so far as to say the councillors were elected by popular vote.

      In the 6 months since your appointment, what impact do you feel you have personally made within Council that marries up with your candidate statement?

      PS - this is not a loaded question or a dig, but as you are taking the time to participate in this forum (and as not everyone can get to Council meetings as a matter of practicality) I am interested to hear how you feel you are working towards implementing the things you stood to represent and what changes you are making or pushing for to help create "a decisive and forward-looking Council which puts residents first".

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    3. Ho Cr Lester I reckon you should familarise yourself with the local gov act if you believe that all your meetings are in accordance with it - I don't think so! Where are 'closed workshops' mentioned? Blowed if I saw any advertisement for the latest workshop either. Why aren't all these things put on the (dreadful) council website? And the rigmarole of how you put a question to council at its meetings is just a farce - how about fixing that one up?
      Les

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    4. It was advertised the day before, which is hardly in keeping with the spirit of the Act either

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    5. In reply to anonymous, Les. More to the point where does it say workshops should be open to the public? Another point worth considering is what is the purpose of council workshops? The meeting was advertised and I agree with another Anon comment that it was advertised way too late. Please give your suggestions Re: questions at meetings to one of your councillors; I am sure we would be willing to look at them. Councillor Chris Lester.

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    6. In reply to are you serious. I was elected in October and not sworn in until the first council meeting on November 17, given that we are now in the beginning of April that works out to be twenty weeks. It’s a bit hard to actually quantify what impact I have had on the group, management and councillors, I would like to think I have brought some positivity to the meetings; I make sure I understand the issues before the meetings and follow what other councillors have to say in the debates. I vote on what I think will be in the best interest of the community as a whole, this sometimes puts me at odds with some people but that is the nature of the job. I believe I am working towards what I said in my candidate’s statement, Willow court is on the move, we now have a new MOU and a new chairman, I continue to feel positive about recent developments and feel that everyone concerned local, state and federal governments are all now on the same page.
      I am very happy with my appointment to the river run tourism committee; tourism was one of the things I spoke of as being pivotal to our future, I am also a member of the tourism information centre. Along with councils regional development officer we now have a very strong voice in the direction tourism is going to go in the Derwent Valley, the committee is made up of many hard working people many of whom have businesses in the Valley.
      I am proud to be associated with the spacial planning review committee (as proxy) this group has worked very hard to address many of the big issues surrounding community and our way forward into the future.
      I also have had the privilege of being councillor Shaw’s proxy on the swimming pool committee during his stay in hospital and am pleased to say was able to work with other members of that committee to further improve the facility’s on offer at the pool, a big congratulations to the managers Ian and Renata Lacey for a job well done. Other things I spoke about were the need for 24 hour policing, better roads and better communication by council to the residents of the Valley. The three issues just mentioned are all work still in progress, policing is very much in the minds of myself and some other councillors and we continue to petition our government representatives for a 24 presents, council has also established a hierarchy of roads to begin to address the issues of an ageing infrastructure, this council along with every other council in Australia are suffering from the same problem which is a lack of funds, your council along with the other 28 councils in Tasmania are working towards securing more funding from the commonwealth government. On the issue of better communication I have been informed that our web site will be looked at in the very near future, I will be following that up. We are also to have a room made available at the court house for councillors, I would like to see this as a place for residents to come along and meet with their representatives on a regular basis, perhaps weekly or fortnightly.
      Finally do I feel I have been able to marry my candidate’s statement with deeds? I think council has become more decisive. Through my influence? I would like to think I helped, and as for putting residents first that is and will remain my focus.
      Councillor Chris Lester.

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    7. Thank you for your considered reply Cr Lester. I appreciate it is early days for you to have a significant impact so all the best with that. You had my vote, so I am am watching.

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  5. Ladies and gents, it's time to put this one to bed. Comments are getting a little personal, including some which were too defamatory to publish. This topic is bound to come up again so for now, comments are closed.

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