TONIGHT'S Derwent Valley Council meeting will start with a 30-minute open session following a partial backflip on the recent decision to bar members of the public from council workshops. Until last month, members of the public were invited to attend the first half-hour of the councillor workshops held on the first and second Thursdays of the month, but this was brought to an end following acceptance of a motion from deputy mayor Ben Shaw at the April council meeting.
By the May council meeting, Cr Shaw seemed to have had a change of heart. "I moved a motion at the last council meeting to remove the public open sessions at workshops and also to change the workshop dates," he said. Cr Shaw said he had since had discussions with people who had suggested that 30 minutes be allowed for a public open session at the start of each ordinary council meeting.
Cr Shaw this was already done in the form of community forums when council meetings are held outside of New Norfolk at locations such as Molesworth, Lachlan, Granton, Westerway, Maydena and Bushy Park, and his proposal was to extend that opportunity to all council meetings. "That still gives that chance to all ratepayers to come along and have open question time with the councillors for the half-hour before the meeting starts," Cr Shaw said.
The proposal was seconded by Cr James Graham, who had been one of two councillors to vote against the removal of public participation at workshops. "I'd like to see this as a bit of a small win," he said. "I was in the room when it was clawed back from every Thursday back to two [and then none], and now we're back to one, but at least as far as I'm concerned that's an opportunity for people to have their say. You heard how I felt about the motion the last time and to me this is a bit of a small win ... so I'm voting for this," Cr Graham said
Cr Frank Pearce said the Local Government Meeting Procedure Regulations already required councils to have a minimum of 15 minutes of public question time and in the case of the meeting in progress at Molesworth the question time had gone for about 40 minutes. "I think there is already sufficient provision within the public question time part of the meeting to take all of the discussion without having to spend an additional half-hour as well. I will be voting against it because I feel we already have it covered.
Cr Paul Belcher said he had been happy to support the previous month's motion "for getting rid of the public session out of the workshops," but he thought the new proposal was a great idea. Cr Julie Triffett echoed Cr Belcher's remarks. "I think it's a great idea to take it away from the workshops and have it with the meetings," she said.
Cr Anne Salt, attending her first meeting, said if the open forum was available in every other district it should also be available when the council met at New Norfolk. "Yeah, I'm in agreeance because I think it's important for people to have the opportunity to come along and chat to the councillors before the meeting," she said.
Closing the debate, Cr Shaw thanked his colleagues for their comments. Addressing Cr Pearce's remarks he said public question time at council meetings was structured and rigid, with a set time available. "There's really no back and forth and I guess that's what we get to have at a public open session and what we're missing from some of the discussions we're having our workshop nights," Cr Shaw said.
When put to the vote the motion was carried 6-1, with Councillors Shaw, Graham, Lathey, Triffitt, Salt and Belcher, in favour, and Cr Pearce opposed. Mayor Martyn Evans was absent.
* The monthly council meeting for June will be held tonight (Thursday) at the New Norfolk Courthouse in Circle St. The public open session will start at 6pm followed by the formal meeting at 6.30pm. Anyone wishing to participate in public question time in the open session must submit their questions writing no later than 6.15pm.