Cease closed workshops, council urged

UPDATE (January 15): As expected, the Derwent Valley Council has overturned a ratepayer motion calling for an end to the practice of closed-door council workshops. Councillors spoke strongly of the value of their workshops as information sessions and pledged that no decisions were made in those forums. The overwhelming vote followed the council being shown to have again failed to declare one of its workshops in the agenda for tonight’s council meeting as required by law. Mayor Tony Nicholson said this was an “unintended oversight”.

THE ORIGINAL STORY: AT its first formal meeting of the year, the Derwent Valley Council is likely to make short shrift of a ratepayer motion to cease holding closed workshops and instead conduct all its debates in properly constituted meetings. The motion was moved by Damian Bester at last month’s annual general meeting and was carried with the unanimous support of the other three people in the public gallery.

The Local Government Act requires that any motion passed at its AGM must be considered at the next meeting of council. The council says its workshops are “permitted” under the Local Government Meeting Regulations 2005, and while they are indeed mentioned in the meeting procedures, the definition is not clear (see below). The regulations also require that the date and purpose of any workshops must be recorded in the monthly council meeting agenda.

Addressing the council AGM, Mr Bester said most matters discussed in closed workshops could have been debated in open council meetings and confidential matters could be heard in properly constituted “closed council meetings”. He said it had been shown that the council did not always comply with the requirement to record the workshop topics in the subsequent agenda, and he reminded the council of the Local Government Board’s own concerns about workshops (see below).

In response to general manager Stephen Mackey asking how he knew that some items discussed at workshops had not been disclosed, Mr Bester said this had been revealed by Mayor Tony Nicholson in recent Public Question Time sessions, with particular reference to a discussion about the Willow Court historic site.

The workshops motion will be considered at the council meeting to be held at the New Norfolk Courthouse at 6.30pm on January 15.

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