Council forums on the chopping block again

A council officer recommends closing the doors on the public
forums held prior to council meetings in New Norfolk.

PUBLIC forums at the Derwent Valley Council’s monthly meetings are once again on the chopping block, with a council officer recommending that only those held at Granton,  Westerway, Maydena, Lachlan, Bushy Park and Molesworth be maintained.

Under the proposal by council communications officer Daniel Cheetham, no public forums will be held at New Norfolk. These would be replaced by quarterly “listening posts” and “general manager face-to-face sessions.”

Until May last year, public participation was welcomed in varying degrees at council workshops. This varied from being permitted for the duration of each workshop, to the first 30 minutes of each workshop, and then the first 30 minutes of two workshops each month.

Last April a majority of councillors supported then deputy mayor Ben Shaw’s proposal to completely close council workshops to the public. A monthly later, Cr Shaw responded to criticism of that move by proposing that the public be invited to attend 30-minute open sessions immediately before each council meeting, and this too won majority support at the council table.

Six months later a new proposal was on the table, with general manager Greg Winton recommending an end to the 30-minute open sessions or public forums after informal agreement had been reached in a councillor workshop. This was deferred for a month and ultimately rejected, although councillors opted to start their meetings earlier than in the past, with the forums to be held at 5.30pm despite arguments this was too early for people who worked in the city.


At this week’s council meeting, the communications officer will recommend a new schedule of community forums, which sees an end to those held in New Norfolk. In his report, Mr Cheetham says the council’s strategic communications plan outlines several opportunities for increased access to councillors and the general manager.

“This Community Forums Schedule progresses and formalises those opportunities,” Mr Cheetham says in his report. “Currently, there is a 30 minute Community Forum at the beginning of each ordinary council meeting. The timing of the community forum at 5pm (sic) on a Thursday often means that many community members cannot attend due to work and other personal commitments. In practice, this forum only provides access to a small number of community members who attend regularly to express their views and ask questions of council.”

Mr Cheetham said the questions asked at the forums could be asked during question time in the formal meeting, which allows a minimum of 15 minutes. There is a limit of two questions per person.

In his report, Mr Cheetham said the proposed community forums schedule would result in increased access to the council and provide more opportunity for community discussion with the council, via:

  • Question Time at the monthly meetings;
  • Quarterly Listening Posts attended by councillors on a rotating basis and at least one council officer to provide  support;
  • Quarterly General Manager face-to-face sessions in six 30-minute meetings, supported by at least once council officer.

“It is recommended that the existing 30-minute community forum at the beginning of each ordinary council meeting be  discontinued, except for those held at Granton, Westerway, Maydena, Lachlan, Bushy Park and Molesworth,” Mr Cheetham says in his report.

“There is a risk that it will be perceived that removing this forum will remove community access to council. If  this schedule is implemented, the opportunities for access to council would increase to more than 25 hours over the course of the year.

“Council has committed to Listening Posts and General Manager face-to-face sessions when it endorsed the Strategic Communications Plan. If  this schedule is not implemented, these elements of the Strategic Communications Plan would not be achieved.”

Mr Cheetham proposes that the quarterly listening posts would be held at the local Australia Day event in January, at the Derwent Valley Autumn Festival in April, and at the High St Market in July and October.

He says the council will “speak to community stakeholders to obtain reciprocal in-kind support for  the Council Listening Posts” and notes that in preparing the new community forum schedule, multiple council staff were consulted and the schedule was discussed in-principle with the mayor.

The monthly council meeting for March will be held at 6pm this Thursday at the New Norfolk Courthouse in Circle St. A 30-minute open session public forum will start at 5.30pm. The agenda documents can be read here.

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