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Gorgeous row of Pines along the entrance road to Tempe Reserve

Last week, we attended Tuesday’s Council meeting that was for the Development Applications.  With the usual papers I discovered the following written in bold font:

Persons in the public gallery are advised that under the Local Government Act 1993, a person may NOT tape record a Council or Committee meeting without the authority of the Council or Committee.

Council grants authority to an accredited television or radio media representative to record by the use of audio or video recording equipment, the proceedings of a Council or Committee meeting upon production of suitable identification & evidence of employment.

Any persons found tape recording without authority will be expelled from the meeting.

“Tape record” includes the use of any form of audio, video & still camera equipment or mobile phone capable of recording speech.

An audio recording of this meeting will be taken for minute taking purposes & will be destroyed upon confirmation of the minutes. (my emphasis)

I was surprised to read that the recordings will be destroyed upon confirmation of the minutes. This issue was only been discussed 3 weeks earlier. The Council Meeting of the 16th March 2010 debated the Greens motion to start audio-streaming of Council Meetings. A Council staff member gave advice to a Councillor’s question saying that the audio-recordings were available to the public on a Freedom of Information application (FOI) up to 3 months after they were confirmed.

As I understand it, the minutes are confirmed at the next meeting, generally one month later.  This would mean that the public now have only one month (30 days) to apply for a copy of an audio-recording whereas 3 weeks ago, they had 120 days.  Why the change & why so quickly?  Why the loss of 90 days? When was this decision made?

This is a significant change.

a friend's garden - amazing what you can do in a back yard

The Minutes traditionally do not record every word said, only recording the issue & the outcome, even if the item was discussed for an hour.  Therefore, the minutes are all but useless for conveying the tone & mood or any disruptions of the meeting.  Audio & video-recordings capture the whole debate.

You can sit through a Council Meeting to find out what is going on & what decisions are made, but most people who are interested have difficulty attending due to family responsibilities & other issues.  This was precisely the reason the Greens gave when they put up a motion to start audio-streaming of Council Meetings.  If Council did do this, people could tune in & listen to the Council Meeting while still having the ability to manage things around the home.

Like having the TV on in the background, you could still follow the story. When listening, you are aware which Councillor holds the floor, which Councillor interrupts, which Councillor shouts as a norm, which Councillor rarely has anything to say.  All these things are important, which is why both State & Federal politics are aired both on radio & TV & have been done so for years.  In this higher level of politics, the public want to ‘know’ their politicians.  If you don’t have time or the inclination to listen or watch parliament, the nightly news bites ensures everyone witnesses the best bits.

It takes time to organize an FOI request & get it to Council to ask for copy of the audio file.  Now the public have only 30 days in which to do this.  Any later & the tape recording will have been destroyed.

Applying for an audio-recording of a Council meeting under FOI will cost $30.

Rather than move forward, as many Councils are doing in NSW with audio or video-streaming, I am of the opinion that our Council is electing to destroy audio-recordings of Council Meetings as fast as they can, making it more difficult for the community to access to them.

5 stunning Brush Box trees looking like they should in a street next to the railway line in Dulwich Hill

If Council argues back that it creates transcripts, which it retains, I will argue that it is not the same for the reasons given above.  Additionally, the charges to obtain transcripts may be higher than an audio CD, because they may require more time to prepare.

I have not heard Councillors or staff members instruct the Gallery that recording of the meeting is not allowed, nor have I seen signage in the Gallery saying this is prohibited.  With technology these days, I would suggest this is a rule that would be extremely hard to enforce & wait with interest to see what happens when a disobedient citizen defies this rule.  I am of the old school, happy taking notes, though it bothers me that recording a Council Meeting is looked upon like a crime when a number of Councils in NSW have been providing both audio-streaming & video-streaming for years.

You can read my take on the Council Meeting where the motion for setting up audio-streaming of Council Meetings was debated & decided against by clicking the following link – https://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/03/19/report-from-the-gallery-–-16th-march-2010-–-part-2/

The following is my understanding of last Tuesday’s Council Meeting.  Note that the rest of the Council Meeting has been posted as ‘part 1.’  All mistakes are mine.

Audio-streaming of Council meetings:  Greens Clr Phillips moved a motion for Council to implement audio-streaming & put money aside to do this.  He said audio-streaming Council meetings would increase transparency, allow for better accountability & may improve behaviour of councillors in the chamber.  He said it would also allow residents to know what is happening in Council & that many NSW Councils are already doing it.

Clr Thanos became lively saying, “0000.1% of the population will want to listen in.  I don’t want to spend 1% of 000000.1% for them to listen in when they are not interested.”  He went on to say Council will have to take funds away from Tom Foster & other community services to do this & Council has a lot better to spend their money on.  Then with much laughter & mirth, “It’s not going to make me better behaved.  I’ll be the same person I’ve been over the last 12 years & I have a long history of misbehaving in these chambers.  It’s worked well for me so far.  I’m not going to be better behaved.”

a gorgeous Morten Bay Fig in Sydney's Domain

You can see how a transcript obtained under FOI would exclude any nuances in tone of voice, laughter etc & the minutes would not include statements like the above.

Clr Kontellis said people want to be engaged about how they are governed, saying it was not about the minutes. “They want to be actively involved in the debate,” to which Clr Thanos interjected asking, “How could they be engaged when they are listening.” He received 5 “Order!” from the Chair because he would not stop interjecting.

Clr Kontellis continued saying that mums, the elderly, people with no transport & people from a NESB would be interested.  Implementing audio-streaming would allow Council to tick off a number of targets in their plan.  Clr Thanos interjected all the way through & was warned by the Chair that he would be removed from the Chamber if he did not stop.  I guess this is his idea of misbehaving & I have seen him do this a lot when the Greens are speaking.  I cannot recall him doing this to any of the other Councillors in the few meetings I have attended.

Clr Wright spoke against the proposal saying she didn’t have a problem with Council’s transparency now, citing all the places where the public can access papers, including being able to access tapes for 3 months after a meeting under FOI (which you have to pay for).  She was concerned about legal & privacy in regards to what people (not councillors) say about others when they address Council & the risk of defamation.  She also thought there wasn’t a demand for this from the community.

Clr O’Sullivan said she was concerned that neither the Councillors nor members of the community were protected by parliamentary privilege & warned that the virtual environment can be viral & toxic in many ways.  She preferred the Greek mode of democracy, which is face to face.

Clr Tsardoulias said he couldn’t support the motion “until the infrastructure is fixed up,” then said, “Even the clairvoyant who donated to the Greens wouldn’t want to watch it.  A clairvoyant wouldn’t want to watch this.”

a 'ring of Figs' planted at Tempe Reserve

Clr Byrne agreed in part with Clr Tsardoulias in regards to infrastructure needing to be fixed, but said that footpaths, night-time safety, public transport & accessibility are important & a social justice issue.  Said, “We make the community jump through hoops with FOI which makes us less responsible,” & that the legal requirements are exactly the same.  Clr Thanos spoke all the way through her speech.

Clr Peters said the audio recording didn’t have to be live & could be edited if there were any defamatory statements as is common in radio.  Said the technical term was ‘moderating the stream.’  She also said this is not an expensive technology.  It only requires a small file put onto the net.

Clr Macri said it didn’t bother him if it was done, but he was worried about the budget & “about the people who would want to sit at home & listen to this.” Also expressed concern about children listening.  I’m sure he was joking.  He went on to say there were lifts & ramps for accessibility.

Clr Hanna said, “The money will add up & the Greens will want to put the rates up.”

Clr Phillips tried to finish the debate by saying Councillors are responsible for they say.  While he was speaking the room was alive with expressions of doubt & laughter as to whether anyone would even want to listen to Council meetings.  Clr Phillps went on to say that $8,490 was not a lot of money to offer this service citing the recent $5,000 given to the Greek Orthodox Church for to quieten their bells.  He also said spending this money would increase Councils transparency & accountability & was therefore worth it.

Clr Thanos interjected saying he, “resented that his concern for fiscal concerns about things which are useless” & it was a political stunt of the Greens. “I don’t want to waste people’s money to satisfy your political concerns.” The motion was lost with the Independents & Labor voting against it.

Clr Thanos then put up a motion to reschedule Council meetings to 12noon on Sunday’s. Clr Byrne said this would incur great costs for staff time & opening up the building.  The motion was lost with all voting against it except Clrs Thanos & Hanna.

a bit of brilliant light relief from Art Express 2010 at the NSW Art Gallery showing a dog painted on a soccer ball - I love it!

Here ends my take on this month’s Business Meeting at Marrickville Council.

I find this issue of audio-streaming very interesting.  Some NSW Councils do not bother with audio-streaming which offers listening only. Instead they offer live webcasts allowing you to watch the Council meeting on your computer like you would TV.

The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article in 2003 saying 14 Councils were expected to have webcasting of their meetings up & running within the year.  Greater Dandenong Council in Victoria regularly had 1,000 people tuning in &  Botany Bay Council said “some meetings attract hundreds.”  The article is very interesting & covers the topic in detail from many angles.  I think it is still relevant to the issue despite being written 7 years ago. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/11/24/1069522526626.html

A quick & by no means exhaustive google search showed the following:

The Councils who webcast Council Meetings deal with the issues of defamatory comments & privacy by informing all speakers & attendees both verbally & with signs that they must refrain from this type of comment & the Council’s also do not take legal responsibility for the same.  Here ends this long post.  I hope you found it interesting. J

Tuesday night was the Business Meeting of Marrickville Council.  I’m just starting to become familiar with each meeting & I think this the most interesting meeting of the month.  The following is my understanding of the meeting & all mistakes are mine.

Lease of Council land in Tempe Reserve The Cooks River Motor Boat Club have been situated on this site for the past 110 years.  In brief, this area of land had 2 components: (a) the Clubhouse, which is on privately owned land (b) the boatyard next door, which is on Crown Land & managed by Marrickville Council.

The Cooks River Motor Boat Club owned the land where the Clubhouse stands & they leased the Crown land next door.  However, the club has gone into liquidation & the private land will be auctioned next Wednesday.  Three parties petitioned Council for the use of the Crown Land where the boatyard currently stands.

View of the wooden boats moored opposite the boatyard from the Promenade at Tempe Reserve

The Cooks River Motor Boat Club petitioned Council to allow them to stay on & have time to get their financial affairs in order.  Ex Mayor Barry Cotter, a member of the club spoke & said, “History comes in many forms & floating heritage is being repaired in this boatyard.”  He went on to say that many of the boats are over 50 years old.

A representative speaking for a different boating group said they wanted to use the land to continue the tradition of repairing boats.  The third speaker was the President of the Newtown Jets Club who said they were attending the upcoming auction with view to purchasing the Clubhouse land & if successful, they would retain the Clubhouse.  They petitioned Council to lease the Crown land where the boatyard is, saying they would convert this to small synthetic-turf sporting fields for the players of the Junior Jets.

There was much discussion about the petitions, with members of Marrickville Greens concerned that Councillors only received some papers regarding this issue 1 hour prior to the meeting & the petitioners, only one day before.  They also had concerns about allowing a group that is in liquidation to receive what they interpreted as priority over the 2 other petitioners for a significant piece of Crown land.  The Labor & Independent Councillors voted to give a 12-month lease to the current local group who has a continued history for 110 years.

Shared open space at Dulwich Hill Primary School: The bottom playground of this school has been used by the community as green space for decades.  Recently the Department of Education & Training (DET) erected a high fence preventing access.  The decision was to liaise with DET to allow access to the community & pay a Caretaker to open & shut the gate paying $28,000 p.a.  This would be a great job to have.

Sister Cities visit: Mayor Iskandar has accepted an invitation from the Mayor of Bethlehem to visit in May 2010.  While Mayor Iskandar is overseas he will also visit 5 other Sister Cities, Funchal Portugal; Keelung Taiwan; Kos Greece; Larnaca Cyprus; Safita Syria;  & later in October, another Sister City in Egypt.  All up Mayor Iskandar will visit 7 Sister Cities overseas this year.  Carried unanimously.

Mackey Park Refurbishment funding: A budget adjustment of $835,000 bringing the total to $3.1 million was carried unanimously.

Council loans: Another reason why these meetings are so interesting.  I had no idea Council took out bank loans for infrastructure works.  Council intends to borrow $2,077,440 over 10 years before the end of this financial year to pay for

Red-flowering Gum - I've seen it used as a street tree in Rockdale

infrastructure works.  It was explained by a staff member that money is only borrowed for long-term assets that benefit the rate-payers in the future.  Clr Phillips expressed concern over the interest burden that would be carried by all & the motion was carried unanimously.

Audio-streaming of Council meetings:  Much was said during this debate. I think it is too much to read in one post so I will post this section of the meeting as ‘Part 2’ tomorrow.

Motion to rescind earlier motion: The meeting ended with a rescind motion by Clr Phillips regarding this evening’s earlier decision to give a 12 month lease to the Cooks River Motor Boat Club & change it to a 3 month lease for the following reasons: the land is up for auction next Wednesday, Council is preferring one group over others which prejudices these groups, supplementary information only arrived one hour before the Council meeting & the issue wasn’t urgent.  Procedural fairness by Council was questioned.  The Independents & Labor voted against the motion, which was lost.

The Business Meeting ended so that Councillors could attend a Budget Meeting.  Two items I was looking forward to were deferred to a future agenda. One was a rescission motion – Financial assistance to the Greek Orthodox Church, which was decided on 16th February 2010.  The other, Saving Marrickville Council from Financial Disaster (Investigating alternative options to special rate levies) where Clr Thanos is asking Council to conduct a study investigating the potential positive & negative impacts to Council’s budget of an amalgamation with the City of Sydney Council.  This business paper makes an interesting read.  Click on the link if you want to read it.  Clr-Thanos-Notice-of-motion-Saving-MC-financial-disaster-2010 I think both these agenda items are going to be very interesting, especially in light of Council’s current dire financial predicament.

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