Don’t let the door hit you on the way out

FURTHER restrictions on public participation at council workshops will be considered at this week’s Derwent Valley Council meeting. A written report proposes that only the first 30 minutes of the monthly workshop be open to the public.

Workshops were introduced by many councils around the state in an attempt to circumvent the “open meeting” provisions of the 1993 Local Government Act. A revision of the Local Government Meeting Regulations gave workshops official status but no indication as to whether they were open to the public or closed. The Derwent Valley Council took the view that they were “closed”.

In 2009 the ousting of the former mayor and the election of several new councillors led to the council deciding to advertise its workshops and open them to the public. This lasted about a year, until late 2010 when the majority of councillors decided to cease the advertising, reportedly to save money. Despite the lack of advertising, workshops remained open but the occasional attendance by members of the public has not sat well with some councillors. This was evident at last week’s workshop on Willow Court, when the mayor suggested the public should sit in the rear rather than at the table. Another councillor grumbled about the presence of the public and asked who had invited them.

The recommendation to further exclude the public from workshops is contained in the report of a working party which had been formed to improve openness and transparency at the council. Instead, it decided against a committee system; indicated councillors people may be paid to serve on an audit committee if one is established in the future; and proposes to close workshops after 30 minutes.

CORRECTION: Readers please note the amendment above, rectifying an error with respect to membership of the future audit committee. A review of the Auditor-General’s recommendations of late 2011 makes it clear his preference is for independent members in this role.

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