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I want to thank Marrickville Council for installing a brand new audio system. It allowed us to hear clearly for the first time since we have been attending Council Meetings. The screen above the Chairperson is great & I am pleased this is continuing in the large format.  A new screen has been provided to allow the Chair & staff members to read the minutes as they are being written which is also a good addition.  I also think there will be many people who will be pleased to see the flags removed from behind the screen.  The following is my understanding of the Meeting & all mistakes are mine.

Financial support for The Pollys Club float in the 2010 Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade – A member of the Pollys spoke about the need for Council to have high visibility in support for the gay & lesbian community & supporting a float in the Mardi Gras Parade would achieve this. He said although

Our beautiful Cooks River, a precious gem that should be looked after to the best of our ability

times have changed since the first parade in 1978, there are still problems with covert discrimination & support from Council helps change the culture. He said The Pollys Club, a community-based organisation hold most of their functions in Marrickville LGA.

Clrs Wright & Kontellis supported the Mayoral Minute for Council to allocate $3,000 for the Pollys Mardi Gras float.  Clr O’Sullivan also supported saying that the Pollys started when gay & lesbians risked gaol & being beaten up for their sexuality & thought Marrickville Council should have a clear association with the Pollys float.

Clr Thanos said he had ridden on the Pollys float one year & experienced homophobia for the first time with many watchers of the parade being abusive & offensive towards him. He said the allocation of money for the Pollys float came up annually via a Mayoral Minute & moved an amendment that the allocation of money to the Pollys float as part of Mardi Gras be part of the annual budget.

Clr Phillips asked whether the flags & banners were generic or included 2010. He supported rainbow flags down main-street, but wanted them to be reusable to save money as they were half the Banner budget.  The Mayoral Minute & Clr Thanos’s amendment carried unanimously.

Formation of a Cooks River Alliance between Councils along the Cooks River – A resident

Cooks River from Mackey Park

who has a long history of participation on a number of local environmental committees spoke in support of the alliance. He said the Cooks River has 2 main structural problems.  The river has been channeled destroying its natural eco-system & has been formed into a drain. He said most of the waste material collected by Mudcrabs (in blogroll on left) is plastic bottles & they are lobbying for a bottle-return program. Secondly, the state of the sewerage infrastructure is so bad that raw sewerage goes into the Cooks River & Sydney Water says fixing this is at the bottom of their list. (I think there is room for community protest about this). As the Cooks River is used as a boundary, there is no over-riding governing body. He said in the 90s the Cooks River Catchment Committee did a lot of good work regarding the river & hopefully the Cooks River Alliance will help the river. He said the Cooks River Catchment Committee functioned on a 1-tier level with residents the same as others & was concerned that this current proposal has a 3-tier level with the community in the third tier. He thought this was not the best way to engage with the community. He also said he would like the Alliance to co-ordinate the river monitoring system which is currently fragmented.

Clr Phillips said the formation of an alliance is exciting & thought there should be a forum where the Councils & the community got together. Mayor Iskandar responded that this current proposal stated 18 months ago, was still in draft form & everyone was interested in working with the community.

Clr O’Sullivan said the Report was a significant achievement & she has been serving on the Cooks River Committee with Clr Olive. She said that because the river has 2 banks it doesn’t work on boundaries & Hurstville, Bankstown & Botany Bay Councils are not committed as yet. She suggested that the Report be endorsed, the other Councils be asked to join & a Report come back to Council by end 2010 about who has signed up & then look at governance.

Clr Olive said previous attempts to set up alliance have been unsuccessful, but this Report looked like it may work. He said the Report was vague on community involvement.  Clr Phillips moved a motion that Marrickville Council work within the Alliance to provide a forum with direct community interaction.   Carried unanimously.

Establishment of a $3,500 Marrickville Contemporary Art Prize at the Chrissie Cotter Gallery – A resident spoke in support of the motion to fund an annual Marrickville Contemporary Art

Mangroves along the Cooks River Marrickville

Prize. He spoke about the resident-run arts initiative in King Street that has had over 70 exhibitions since opening 4 years ago. They have now initiated the Marrickville Contemporary Arts Prize that acknowledges & celebrates artists in Marrickville LGA. Vanishing Point Gallery has decided to hold an exhibition of this year’s winner as part of the Fringe Festival coinciding with the Art Prize.  He suggested that a further $1,500 be included in next year’s budget for more prizes in next year’s event in consultation with Council staff.

Clrs Byrne, Phillips, Olive & Clr O’Sullivan supported the motion.  O’Sullivan said Council needed to keep an eye on it because once it becomes a centerpiece event in Council’s calendar Council may need to consider what sort of work is acceptable.  Carried unanimously.

The last item we remained for was the Auditor’s Report on Marrickville Council’s budget. This was extremely interesting & to do it justice, I will write about this as a separate post.

Trees reflected in the Cooks River

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

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