Item 11 MM2/20 Public Forum Addresses on Agenda and Non-Agenda Items at Council General Meetings – COVID-19 Emergency Arrangements......................................................... 1
Mayoral Minute No. MM2/20
Date of Meeting: 8/04/2020
11 PUBLIC FORUM ADDRESSES ON AGENDA AND NON-AGENDA ITEMS AT COUNCIL GENERAL MEETINGS – COVID-19 EMERGENCY ARRANGEMENTS
Under Council’s Code of Meeting Practice and up to and including the 11 March 2020 General Meeting, members of the public were provided with an opportunity to address Council on General Meeting agenda items prior to the item being debated by Council. An opportunity was also provided later in the Meeting for members of the public to address Council on non-agenda matters. At the conclusion of individual addresses on agenda items, Councillors had the opportunity to ask questions about the matters raised prior to determining an appropriate resolution.
In response to the current COVID-19 emergency, the State Government has made amendments to section 10 of the Local Government Act. As a consequence, the requirement under section 10 of the Act that Councillors physically attend Meetings is satisfied for at least the next six months if the Councillors attend the Meeting remotely using audio-visual links, and the requirement for Meetings to be open to the public is satisfied if a webcast of the Meeting is publicly available.
In order to satisfy the new legislative requirements, Council has made arrangements during the COVID-19 emergency to conduct its General Meetings via audio-visual links and to webcast those Meetings live via its website.
Although not a requirement of the legislation, Council has also provided an opportunity for members of the public to submit written addresses about items of business on the 8 April 2020 General Meeting agenda (as well as non-agenda items) by 12 noon on the day of the Meeting and have them read out by the General Manager prior to the item being debated at the Meeting.
It is noted that the above process does not provide an opportunity, as was the case for Meetings up until 11 March 2020, for Councillors to ask questions of a public speaker following that person’s address. The questions were an effective means of clarifying aspects of the issue raised by the public speaker as well as then providing the opportunity for further comment by relevant Council staff about the matter when requested by Councillors.
Although not all councils across the State are providing members of the public with an opportunity to submit written addresses and to have them read out at meetings, Hornsby Shire Council is very conscious of the need to ensure that its decisions take account of important community input and that pre-COVID-19 emergency opportunities for public input into the decisions continue to be provided to the best of Council’s ability. I understand that most councils progressing their meetings in line with the amended legislation are not providing public input and comment in the way that our Council is.
Following discussion with my fellow Councillors and senior staff, I believe it is appropriate to formalise the public forum arrangements which should apply from the 13 May 2020 General Meeting until the end of the current COVID-19 emergency period. The aim of these arrangements is to ensure that Council can make good decisions in the most efficient manner, aligned as best as possible with its pre-COVID-19 Meeting processes, after taking into account:
· Reports prepared by senior staff
· Inputs received from members of the public about those reports
· Appropriate responses to the public input received
In the current circumstances, the best method of achieving this outcome is to allow members of the public to provide written addresses (limited to a maximum of three minutes when read out by the General Manager) by 12 noon on the day of the General Meeting and for those addresses to be immediately distributed to Councillors and relevant senior staff. Such a distribution would provide sufficient opportunity for a Councillor to appraise themselves of the issues raised by members of the public and to ask any relevant questions of the senior staff and/or member of the public prior to the matter being discussed and determined at the Meeting.
It is noted that if public forum addresses were not distributed to Councillors and senior staff prior to the Meeting, there is a potential for important matters raised which Councillors would like to ask questions about, or to request some research be undertaken, cannot be achieved prior to the Meeting. This could lead to some items being deferred unnecessarily to a future Meeting.
The process I am recommending is only proposed to apply for the period of the current COVID-19 emergency. Following that period, Council’s public forum processes will return to the normal arrangements in line with Council’s Code of Meeting Practice.
1. Council note that as a consequence of amendments made to the Local Government Act in response to the COVID-19 emergency, the requirement under section 10 of the Act that Councillors physically attend meetings is satisfied for at least the next six months if the Councillor attends remotely using audio-visual links and the requirement for meetings to be open to the public is satisfied if a webcast of the meeting is publicly available.
2. Council note that the arrangements it has made during the COVID-19 emergency to conduct its General Meetings via audio-visual links and to live webcast those Meetings, together with the opportunity provided for members of the public to submit written addresses about items of business on the 8 April 2020 General Meeting agenda and having those addresses read out by the General Manager prior to the item being debated, is above and beyond the requirements of the legislation.
3. In the interest of providing an opportunity for community input into sound and appropriate decision-making by Council for at least the next six months during the COVID-19 emergency, any written addresses submitted by members of the public by the deadline of 12 noon on the day of General Meetings from 13 May 2020 are to be distributed to Councillors and relevant Divisional Managers following their receipt.
4. The aim of the distribution referred to in 3. above is to ensure that Councillors (based on the report included in the Business Paper together with the written addresses from members of the public and advice provided to Councillors about those addresses from relevant Senior Staff) have all information on hand to make appropriate and well-informed decisions.
5. Council note that following the conclusion of the statutory COVID-19 emergency period, public forum processes associated with General Meetings will return to the normal arrangements in line with Council’s Code of Meeting Practice.
The Honourable Cr PHILIP RUDDOCK
There are no attachments for this report.
File Reference: F2004/07032