Still locked out

SECRET debates at Bayswater committee meetings will continue after Cr Catherine Ehrhardt’s motion to open them to the public was voted down.

Cr Ehrhardt said it was in line with the council’s ongoing transparency push to open meetings to the public and post audio recordings of them online, which has been adopted by a number of councils across the metro area. She said they could still be briefly closed and recorders switched off for confidential items.

“The intent behind these motions is making the meetings more accessible to the community, as well as to other councillors,” Cr Ehrhardt said. Currently the minutes are published but they only show the final vote, not the debate.

New councillor Steven Ostaszewskyj supported the motion saying “three words: Transparency, accountability, and accessibility” and Cr Georgia Johnson said she welcomed anything to make committee meetings more accessible.

But most other councillors at the March 10 meeting want them kept closed. A couple of committees have non-council members and some of the concern was for them.

Cr Lorna Clarke said the committees often dealt with sensitive items and good decisions had come about from discussions behind closed doors, and having them open and recorded means “you lose some of the informality of how we operate”.

Transparency

Cr Barry McKenna liked open committees, but not recording them.

“We live in a litigious society,” he warned, saying non-council members mightn’t have the experience to know “when to bite your tongue” and get sued for defamation.

Cr Stephanie Gray said recorded meetings might deter shy members of the public from attending, while being behind closed doors allowed innovative thinking and a place to “toss ideas around freely” for quiet feedback.

Mayor Dan Bull did not speak on the item but voted against it.

Only the Reconciliation Advisory Committee is open currently. It’s required by law as it has its own independent powers to carry out the Reconciliation Action Plan. The others just have members vote on which recommendation to put to full council.

The Local Government Department operational guidelines say opening committees “allows the community to view the decision-making process from the time an issue is first presented to elected members through to the final decision”.

Vincent council decides Tuesday March 16 whether to open up its workshops. Currently they are highly secretive and even the agendas aren’t published. Former councillor Dudley Maier put up a successful motion at the last electors’ meeting to open them and publish the agendas to be consistent with the city’s talk of transparency. 

Staff recommended councillors keep them closed: “Workshops are not decision making forums … the purpose of council workshops is for elected members to be engaged and ask questions on strategies, plans and policies that are in the early planning stages. No decisions or indication of voting intentions are disclosed at council workshops”.

by DAVID BELL

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