Council motions need defining

November 24, 2016

Dinny Adem has been endorsed to lead the recently-elected Greater Shepparton City Council.

Dinny Adem, who has an excellent ‘‘front of house’’ presence, has been endorsed to lead the recently-elected Greater Shepparton City Council team for the first of its four-year tenure. We wish him well. He will be ably supported by newbie popular first-elected Cr Kim O’Keefe as deputy mayor. She is sure to do a great personable job, instantly in the public function role and steadily, if needed, in the meeting chair.

All members of the new council, old-hand majority and four debutantes, have spent the past three weeks engaged in a broad and intensive orientation program. No, not an indoctrination, but an intensive initiation to their statutory roles and responsibilities and the personalities with whom they’ll work on a day-to-day basis. From all reports, it was a successful exercise, if at times a tad tedious.

Two of the most important imported ‘‘lecturers’’ were a highly-regarded legal eagle from arguably a top Melbourne firm specialising in municipal law, and one of the best-respected town planning consultants, with extensive experience as a member at VCAT and Planning Panels Victoria.

The former would have covered the Councillor Code of Conduct, conflict of interest, the Local Government Act and other relevant Acts, meeting procedure and all manner of councillor responsibilities.

The planning man, who I understand took two two-hour sessions, would have given in-depth coverage to Victorian Planning Provisions, Greater Shepparton’s Planning Scheme and zoning, strategic planning, planning appeals, council as the ‘‘responsible’’ planning authority and the role of ‘‘referral’’ authorities. The list goes on for a responsibility area that is perhaps the most important obligation councillors have.

It is pleasing to note that councillors and partners have also relaxingly met socially and the vibes augur well for the development of a team that will often differ in opinion but will be altruistically united at the end of the day.

● On Tuesday evening, the new Greater Shepparton City Council conquered its first monthly ordinary council meeting. It was an innocuous affair with little, if any, momentous decision-making involved.

Each individual councillor moved, seconded or briefly spoke to a motion, there being no amendments or opposition to any of the 26 motions carried.

That’s fair enough given that each item on the November agenda was fairly procedural, mundane and run-of-the-mill.

Let’s hope that no one gets the idea that meetings will be as uninteresting and innocuous as Tuesday’s.

So let’s look at the construct and format of their first ‘‘formal’’. Given the dull humdrum of the agenda, what about the conduct of the first ‘‘streamed’’ pow-wow?

The first constructive criticism from a grouchy old hair-splitter like me is the intensive meeting emphasis placed on the staff recommendations that accompany every item report on the printed agenda, even to the point of introduction of the item with the likes of ‘‘will someone move the recommendation?’’ or the marginally better ‘‘will someone move the recommendation as a motion?’’

Fair suck of the sauce bottle. That invitation, annoyingly grown in seeming popularity over the past decade, virtually amounts to unintentionally ‘‘leading’’ the meeting.

What should be the meat of the introductory invitation is the seeking of a motion from the floor. The chair asks to the effect: ‘‘do we have a motion?’’, which may or may not be some form of or verbatim the officers’ recommendation.

Otherwise, the meeting participants and, worse still, the general public, might get the impression that council meetings have become a mere ‘‘rubber stamping’’ exercise lacking any real original input from individual councillors.

We wouldn’t want that now, would we?

● While we’re pedantically on meeting procedure, I just can’t fathom why or how the mover of a motion to which neither he or she, nor the seconder, nor any other councillor, has spoken can be offered a right of reply or closing remarks to end ‘‘debate’’ on a motion when there has been no debate and new material is forbidden in a closure.

As that happened half a dozen times last Tuesday, it’s genuinely got me worried as you apparently can’t call for a point of order from the public gallery. Can any like-minded, nit-picking obfuscator out there help me with a clarification?

Then there was the dealing with a petition containing 420 signatures addressing a previous council refusal to grant a demolition permit for a building in the Heritage Overlay.

A procedural motion to ‘‘receive’’ that petition is all that is required, not debate of its contents at that time, but the mover of that receipt motion did get to speak on that issue. No point of order was raised.

It just seems to me that the start of our new four-year tenured council term may be time for a revamp of council’s Local Law number two, processes of local government (meetings and common seal), before our new council drifts unaware into bad habits.

Shepparton’s John Gray has vast experience in local government, urban water reform and natural resource management.

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