Council forums live to fight another day

Councillors Luke Browning, left, Anne Salt and Rachel Power
at last month’s council meeting.

THE first Derwent Valley Council meeting for 2019 – on January 24 – will start with the usual public forum after the final meeting of 2018 saw councillors back away from the plan to end the 30-minute open sessions in the short term.

The first full meeting of the new-look council last November looked set to adopt a revised meeting structure without the recently-introduced 30-minute forums, but the motion was deferred for discussion at a closed-door workshop after councillors Martyn Evans and Paul Belcher spoke against the move.

When the matter returned to the December meeting, Crs Belcher and Evans successfully moved that the forums remain a feature of each monthly meeting. All councillors voted in favour of the retention of the forums with the exception of Cr Anne Salt who had proposed a trial of council meetings without the public forums while a new communications strategy was bedded down.

The new meeting schedule for 2019 will see public open forums held at 5.30pm immediately before ordinary council meetings in New Norfolk, which will generally be at 6pm on the third Thursday of the month. When the council meets outside New Norfolk, regional community forums will be held at 5.30pm, ahead of the council meeting at 6pm.

After hearing Cr Belcher put the case for retaining the monthly open forums, Cr Salt proposed, via an amendment, that the council proceed with the general manager’s recommendation that council meetings start at 5.30pm, without a public forum. She also proposed that the council’s communications officer be allowed several months to implement other forms of community consultation.

“Until April … council meetings start at 5.30, to enable the communications officer to implement the communications [plan] talking points, followed by a review involving the community, to determine whether that provides sufficient time for consultation,” Cr Salt proposed.

After several minutes of toing and froing, Cr Evans asked mayor Ben Shaw whether there was a seconder for the amendment under discussion. “No, there’s not. We’re just working out what the amendment is,” Cr Shaw said.

Cr Belcher had previously asked whether Cr Salt’s proposal included public open forums. “No, no,” was Cr Salt’s reply. Cr Rachel Power later sought clarification on this, and Cr Shaw reaffirmed that Cr Salt’s amendment was for council meetings without public forums. “Is that correct?” he asked. “I think so,” Cr Salt replied.

The mayor then asked if there was a seconder for Cr Salt’s amendment. With no councillor putting up their hand, the amendment lapsed.

Returning to discussion of Cr Belcher’s proposal, Cr Power said the council had to allow time for its new communications strategy to take effect before altering the public forums. “I think that the Communications Plan that is coming up needs time to have effect and I think that we need that public forum until that comes into effect and the public know where they can reach us.”

Cr Luke Browning asked for an explanation of the difference between the public forums held before the council meetings, and Public Question Time held during the meetings. Cr Shaw said the forums were less formal. “People can just come along, they don’t have to write their questions down like you do in Public Question Time, and it’s less formal in that first half hour. So you can just shoot the breeze, ask questions, give questions back, and generally talk around the table,” Cr Shaw said.

The first Derwent Valley Council meeting for 2019 will be held at the New Norfolk Courthouse, Circle St, on Thursday, January 24. There will be a public forum at 5.30pm and the council meeting proper will start at 6pm. 

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