Item 3 LM2/21 Additional Information - Office of Local Government Consultation Paper - Remote Attendance by Councillors at Council Meetings............................................................. 1
Corporate Support Division
Date of Meeting: 14/04/2021
CS19/21 - Office of Local Government Consultation Paper - Remote Attendance by Councillors at Council Meetings
Since the finalisation of Director’s Report No. CS19/21, the Minister for Local Government has announced that the Local Government (General) Regulation has now been amended (as had been foreshadowed in the referenced Report) to temporarily exempt councils until 31 December 2021 from complying with the requirement under their codes of meeting practice for councillors to be personally present at meetings to participate in them.
The Regulation amendment will operate to allow councils to permit councillors to attend meetings remotely by audio-visual link while the Office of Local Government (OLG) consults on the proposed new provisions of the Model Meeting Code and until such time as councils are able to adopt them into their codes of meeting practice.
Councils are not required to amend their current codes of meeting practice to allow councillors to attend meetings remotely by audio-visual link while the Regulation amendment is in force but are expected to adopt procedures governing attendance by councillors at meetings by audio-visual link to supplement their codes.
In announcing the amendment to the Regulation, Minister Hancock made the following statements:
· The NSW Government is committed to increasing diversity of councillors in NSW including the number of women serving on our local councils.
· That’s why we are consulting on proposed changes to allow individual councillors with work and carer responsibilities to attend council meetings virtually.
· In the interim, the Government has heard loud and clear that councils want flexibility after the use of online meetings to protect councillors, staff and members of the public during the COVID-19 pandemic
Having regard to the above, the OLG has published Circular No. 21-02 to which is attached a set of suggested procedures for councils to consider as a supplement to their current codes of meeting practice. A summary of those parts of the procedures that would be relevant to Hornsby Shire Council (if adopted) is provided below:
· “Audio-visual” link is defined as “a facility that enables audio and visual communication between persons at different places”.
· Council may, in response to a request from a Councillor, resolve to permit the Councillor to attend one or more Meetings of the Council remotely by audio-visual link where Council is satisfied that the Councillor will be prevented from attending the Meeting/s in person because of illness, disability, caring responsibilities or such other reason that is acceptable to the Council.
· Requests by Councillors to attend Meetings remotely by audio-visual link must be made in writing to the General Manager by at least 5pm on the Friday, nine business days before the Meeting is to be held, and must provide information about the Meeting/s the Councillor will be prevented from attending in person and the reason why the Councillor will be prevented from attending the Meeting/s in person.
· A resolution by Council permitting a Councillor to attend one or more Meetings by audio-visual link is required to provide the following information:
o The grounds on which the Councillor is being permitted to attend Meeting/s remotely by audio-visual link, but not where those grounds relate to illness, disability or caring responsibilities.
o Details of the Meeting/s the resolution applies to.
· Council may permit more than one Councillor to attend a Meeting by audio-visual link but must not permit all Councillors to attend a Meeting by audio-visual link.
· A decision to permit a Councillor to attend a Meeting remotely by audio-visual link is at Council’s discretion but Council must act reasonably when considering a request from a Councillor.
· Council is under no obligation to permit a Councillor to attend a Meeting remotely by audio-visual link where the technical capacity does not exist to allow the Councillor to attend a Meeting by these means.
· Council may refuse a Councillor’s request to attend a Meeting by audio-visual link where that Councillor has failed to appropriately declare and manage conflicts of interest, observe confidentiality or comply with the Council’s Code of Meeting Practice on one or more previous occasions when they have attended a Meeting by audio-visual link.
· Where a Councillor attends a Meeting by audio-visual link with the approval of Council, they are to be taken as attending the Meeting in person for the purposes of Council’s Code of Meeting Practice and have the same voting rights as if they were attending the Meeting in person.
· The Code of Meeting Practice will apply to a Councillor attending a Meeting by audio-visual link in the same way it would if they attended the Meeting in person.
· Councillors will be required to give their full attention to the business and proceedings of the Meeting when attending a Meeting by audio-visual link.
· Councillors will be required to be appropriately dressed when attending Meetings by audio-visual link and must ensure that no items are within sight of the Meeting that are inconsistent with the maintenance of order at the Meeting or that are likely to bring Council into disrepute.
· If a Councillor attends a Meeting by audio-visual link, the Minutes of the Meeting are to record the fact that the Councillor attended the Meeting by audio-visual link.
· Councillors attending a Meeting by audio-visual link will be required to declare and manage any conflicts of interest they may have in matters being considered at the Meeting in accordance with Council’s Code of Conduct.
· If a Councillor has declared a pecuniary or significant non-pecuniary conflict of interest in a matter being discussed at a Meeting, the Councillor’s audio-visual link to the Meeting must be terminated and the Councillor must not be in sight or hearing of the Meeting at any time during which the matter is being considered or discussed by the Council, or at any time during which the Council is voting on the matter.
· Councillors attending a Meeting by audio-visual link will be required to ensure that no other person is within sight or hearing of the Meeting at any time that the Meeting has been closed to the public under section 10A of the Act.
· If a Councillor attends a Meeting by audio-visual link, the Chairperson or a person authorised by the Chairperson will be permitted to mute the Councillor’s audio link to the Meeting for the purposes of enforcing compliance with the Code of Meeting Practice.
· If a Councillor attending a Meeting by audio-visual link is expelled from a Meeting for an act of disorder, the Chairperson of the Meeting or a person authorised by the Chairperson will be permitted to terminate the Councillor’s audio-visual link to the Meeting.
· Council must comply with the Health Privacy Principles prescribed under the Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002 when collecting, holding, using and disclosing health information in connection with a request by a Councillor to attend a Meeting remotely by audio-visual link.
Whilst staff are supportive of Council adopting the above set of procedures to supplement its existing Code of Meeting Practice for the period to 31 December 2021, and noting that Council still has a requirement to webcast its Meetings during the same period, a decision by Council to adopt the procedures would need to be made in the knowledge that Council does not currently have the technical equipment required for a hybrid Meeting format whereby the Meeting is being webcast but where some Councillors are present in the Council Chambers and some are attending remotely via audio-visual link (refer bolded procedure above).
As such, it is recommended that a final decision on the matter not be made until staff have been able to seek relevant advice about what improvements (and costs) are required to ensure that Council’s webcast of its Meetings is able to seamlessly match with a system allowing remote attendance by Councillors at the same Meeting.
1. The contents of Director’s Report No. CS19/21 and Late Items Memo No. LM2/21 be received and noted.
2. Council authorise the General Manager to make a submission in response to the consultation paper - Remote Attendance by Councillors at Council Meetings - in line with the matters raised in Director’s Report No. CS19/21 and Late Items Memo No. LM2/21.
3. A further report on this matter be submitted for Council’s consideration once relevant advice has been sought about what improvements (and costs) are required to ensure that Council’s webcast of its Meetings is able to seamlessly match with a system allowing remote attendance by Councillors at the same Meeting.
Director - Corporate Support
Corporate Support Division
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File Reference: F2004/07032