News

Meeting food for thought

by
May 17, 2018

A Greater Shepparton City Council meeting was this week assembled to hear about local law.

While far from the most exciting topic to see tackled, the sole submitter wishing to be heard made some highly salient points.

John Gray, a longtime councillor himself and regular contributor to the News opinion section, pointed out about 20 items he believes need addressing in regard to a draft local law around Procedures for Council Meetings and Common Seal 2018.

It’s fair to say some of the items he took issue with were fairly inconsequential and amendments would not make much difference to the reality of how council meetings are run.

Others should be seriously considered by councillors when the matter comes back to them next month.

Chief among these is a revision of the council’s public question time.

The current format is far from perfect, and one imagines, sometimes frustrating to those taking the time to ask questions.

For one, there is the unnecessarily lengthy timeframe that questions need to be submitted in advance of a monthly meeting.

This does little to encourage community interaction, instead providing unnecessary hoops to jump through just to get a question answered.

Answers can often be less than illuminating, and prompt more questions.

The opportunity for attendees to ask questions without notice would be welcome at meetings.

Furthermore, Mr Gray took issue with councillor ‘‘debate’’ at meetings.

Here he was critical of a tendency for some, although he made a point of not pointing at incumbents, to read from the meeting agenda when speaking to a motion.

He also questioned the necessity at times for councillors to take turns making the same point, in the absence of opposing views.

This, he argued, did not constitute ‘‘debate’’.

At the heart of Mr Gray’s concerns seems to be that at times, meetings have taken place without an opposing view aired to recommendations put to councillors by officers.

We are not suggesting debate for the sake of debate.

Just that in regard to some items, including some particularly thorny ones, a further exploration of the key issues at hand would be welcome.

Much of this, one imagines, takes place, and is resolved, behind closed doors and in briefing sessions.

The council has said in recent times it wants to take steps, where possible, to improve transparency and place decisions and reports into the public arena.

Any further steps taken to improve this would be commendable.

We hope councillors take Mr Gray’s views on board when considering changes shortly.

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