Wattle - flowering now.

Wattle – flowering now.

When SoT started in 2009 Marrickville Council posted removal notifications on their website with a period of 3-weeks for the community to send in any submissions, with their views either in favour or against the proposal.  What was important is that the community could have a say.

Then around a year or perhaps 18-months ago Council reduced the consultation period to 10-working days. This usually meant 14 calendar days because weekends intervened.  I was concerned about the loss of one week knowing how time-poor most people are & how this may have a likely impact on people making the submission deadline.

Since then Council has been inconsistent, some times allowing 2 other times 3 weeks.

Sometime last week Marrickville Council removed deadlines altogether.  They now say, “If you wish to discuss this matter please call Council’s Tree Asset Officer, (name) on 8595 2434 during normal office hours.”

This is not good.  I cannot count the number of people who have contacted me because they did not feel confident contacting Council directly.  I’ve written posts on issues because the community requested me, solely because people often tell me they do not feel comfortable discussing their opposition with the very person who made the decision.  Even I have telephoned a Council staff member only twice since starting this blog.  Why? Because it can feel intimidating.  Because it sets up an adversarial event.  Because we know that if a decision-maker has said a tree has to go, phoning them to say I don’t want you to remove the tree is not going to have much of an impact.

The most important issue is transparency & accountability.  If you phone someone, you have no way of knowing that there will be a record of this, or, that any notes that may be kept will accurately & fully describe your views. If you email Council, you get a return email saying they have received your email & will process it.  If an issue requires reports to senior managers or to the Councillors, having a system of written submissions, enables the report to correctly record the number of submissions received, how many agreed or disagreed & what issues they raised.

Accountability is very important. There would be few in the community who would not worry that their phone call has been dismissed, whereas an email has a record somewhere.

A community engagement system that relies on a unilateral decision by the decision maker to record or not record, or, how to interpret what you tell them on the phone is not consistent with the principles of open government, transparency & accountability. It gives a signal to the community that Council wants to be the sole arbiter of its decisions about public trees & the sole arbiter of disclosing whether there has been opposition to its decisions.

The people with whom I discussed this new process were not at all impressed with the latest changes.

14th February 2013 –  Good news.  Marrickville Council has posted a comment stating that their consultation process has not changed & that an administrative error occurred, which omitted to include the deadline date & email address for written submissions. As per usual, submissions can be sent to Marrickville Council at council@marrickville.nsw.gov.au or phone the Tree Asset Officer on 8595 2434.  See Council’s comment below.