In this post we will concentrate on two important aspects of council’s operations as they are depicted in the Agenda Items – (1) continued selective editing and publishing timeline of Assembly Meetings and (2) community consultation committee as a mirror of this administration’s attitude to genuine community consultation and representation.

RECORDS OF ASSEMBLY

The Local Government Act (Section 80A) stipulates that  – The Chief Executive Officer must ensure that the written record of an assembly of Councillors is, as soon as practicable

  • reported at an ordinary meeting of the Council; and
  • incorporated in the minutes of that Council

This is clearly not happening in Glen Eira. Minutes from the 27th October and from the 10th November are still to be tabled and made available. Yet, when we look at what has been published, the order is astounding and we believe quite deliberate. It is not therefore adhering to the Local Government Act but rather indulging in political machinations that attempt to keep certain items (like the guns in parks) under wraps for as long as possible. Why was the November the 4th assembly included in the minutes of the 24th November Council Meeting whilst the highly contentious 20th October meeting was only published for this agenda (15th December)? And what has happened to the missing Records of Assembly? Here are the respective council meetings and the Records of Assembly minutes published for each of these council meetings.

24/11/2015  Council Meeting

6 October

13 October

November 4th

15th December 2015 Council Meeting

20th October

17th November

24th November

Some items from these latest records deserve highlighting –

Cr Delahunty – can an update on the recent meeting of the Caulfield Racecourse Reserve Trust be given. Councillors who are Trustees gave an update to the extent they were permitted to by the Trust’s Code of Conduct.

Cr Delahunty – recent dance party at the Caulfield Racecourse.

Cr Sounness – recent dance party at the Caulfield Racecourse. Role of the Private Building Surveyor.

 

COMMUNITY CONSULTATION COMMITTEE

Quite frankly, we have to wonder why council even bothers in having this committee – apart from going through the motions and pretending that Glen Eira is so community conscious and ‘democratic’. Meeting after meeting achieves bugger all in our view. Here is the evidence to support this claim –

The committee minutes of 19th February 2015 show that a presentation was made by Iain Walker of the New Democracy Foundation. The foundation is geared towards ‘the idea of citizen juries’ and to ‘place decision making in the hands of community members’. The minutes also state that ‘discussion on selection process, structure of juries, methods used, authority given to the jury and costs occurred’ took place. The ‘Action Item’ was for officers to send Mr Walker a ‘letter of thanks’!

Now 2 meetings later we get this morphed situation –

Report on how participatory budgeting is used here and overseas and advise about any statutory obstacles which may impede implementation

A report was presented that provided an overview of how participatory budgeting is used here and overseas and the statutory issues in pursuing this approach. The report identified that the approach has been used in South America, North America, Asia, Africa, Europe, US and Canada. It has been adopted as a way of engaging citizens and ensuring that local government spending reflects the needs of local communities. Australia has developed their own particular take on participatory budgeting that seeks informed recommendations on budget decisions through the citizen jury or panel format.

Although there are no statutory limitations or requirements for the implementation of participatory budgeting process, there are some potential restrictions that need consideration in exploring application of such a model. The most pertinent include:

  • Council consists of democratically elected members who are afforded the responsibility to govern and make decisions on matters affecting their municipality and community.
  • There are substantial costs associated with implementing a quality participatory budgeting process.(New Democracy Foundation estimates $85-90,000)

Any recommendations made by a participatory budgeting process are still required to be approved by normal Council arrangements. According to the Local Government Act 1989, Councillors are the legal authority to make decisions whilst participating as a member of the Council in a formal council meeting.

Action: Further discussion participatory budgeting and options for Council to use this approach to be on agenda for the next meeting in February. Officers to contact the ‘New Democracy Foundation’ to discuss options for a participatory budget process including costs and timelines.

 

COMMENTS – There is nothing in any of the minutes to indicate that ‘participatory budgeting’ was now the focus instead of ‘citizen juries’ in general (based on the previous Iain Walker presentation. No doubt it will take another 3 or 4 meetings (ie at least a year) for anything to happen. And it would be so wonderful if instead of highlighting the presumed ‘negatives’ of an issue, the ‘positives’ were also included! But then, that is the Glen Eira way – pretend to listen, then do nothing. As we’ve previously stated – progress in this council occurs at glacial speed!

Some other examples of inexplicable tardiness follow –

Minutes of 27th May feature this gem – Discussion occurred on what Council should consult on and whether new Council policies should be subject of community consultation. The discussion was adjourned to a future meeting so that John Fien could begin. Result? This fundamental issue has now disappeared into the dustbin of history!

Minutes of 19th August 2015 include this – The committee considered that the use of social media could enhance community engagement and that an increased use of social media would be of benefit to Council. Action Item – Officers to prepare a paper setting out how other Councils use social media for consultation and how Councils approach could be enhanced.

But this current set of minutes includes the following –

Report – How other Councils use social media for consultation and how Councils approach could be enhanced –This report is being prepared by Community Relations and will be presented at the next meeting of this committee in February 2016. Thus in Glen Eira it takes at least 6 months for anything to even be initiated much less implemented.

The best however comes with this from the current minutes –

Definition of consultation and informing the community

Susan McKenna (community representative) sought clarification on Council’s definition of consultation. In the Community Engagement Strategy; consultation is described as obtaining community feedback on analysis, alternatives and/or decisions. This definition reflects the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), Public Participation Spectrum.

Susan stated that the revised plans for the Booran Road Reservoir development are not currently on the Council website.

Action: Councillors present committed to raising these issues at a future Assembly of Councillors

Comments: SO WE’VE NOW HAD A COMMUNITY CONSULTATION COMMITTEE GOING FOR AT LEAST 3 YEARS AND THE BASICS REMAIN UNCLEAR. We also know that officer reports are tabled at these meetings but never made public. We also know that past community reps have found the process completely unsatisfactory and resented the continual doctoring of minutes or very selective inclusions. We offer our commiserations to the current crop of community reps who no doubt are trying their utmost to ensure that improvements are made but are continually stymied by a culture that sees no place for community views, much less genuine participation and god forbid ’empowerment’ for the community!

 

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