You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Freedom of Information applications’ tag.

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

It was a very quiet meeting last night.  Councillors Kontellis, Thanos & Hanna were absent & Mayor Iskandar & Clr Tsardoulias had to leave for other engagements around half way through the agenda.  The following is how I understood the meeting.  All mistakes are mine.

First up was quest speaker Cathy Lloyd, London Co-ordinator & Director of Open Bethlehem which is trying to save Bethlehem by encouraging interfaith dialogue, peaceful cooperation & harmony.  She said only 15% of Bethlehem residents are Christian & if relations between religious groups do not improve, it is likely that the Christian churches in Bethlehem will be museums within a few years.  She will speak at St Luke’s Church in Enmore this Thursday night.

Then on to the Land Use, Assets & Corporate Committee Meeting.

South Ward Local Area Traffic: Marrickville Council’s report recommended 24 points & a few residents came to speak about various points in the report.

Traffic on Warren Road Marrickville South: one resident spoke against & 2 spoke for the recommendations.

The ‘for’ arguments were about the size of trucks using the streets with particular reference to the 19 metre trucks currently used by Woolworths, saying they were too long for the local streets, caused traffic grid-lock, road rage incidents, frequent property damage, increased the risk of accidents & lowered pedestrian safety amongst other issues.  They agreed Warren Road should be made one-way from Carrington to Illawarra Road & wanted traffic to be allowed to turn right from Renwick into Illawarra Road to stop a large percentage of traffic leaving Woolworths being forced to travel around the block to go west & north.

The ‘against’ argument reminded of past experience when roads were made one-way which resulted in significant traffic increases & also expressed concern that other residential streets would get more traffic as a result of Warren Rd & Schwebel Street being made one-way.  Mayor Iskandar & Clr Tsardoulias supported this fear.

Clr Macri suggested a 12 month trial to see if the one-way option worked, but a council staff member advised this wouldn’t be a good idea because if the trial was unsuccessful, the residents would not like losing their parking rights again.  Clr Marcri also said Woolworths needed to act responsibly & suggested council erect ‘concrete tank traps’ to stop damage by trucks to council property.

Clr O’Sullivan said 75% of Warren Road residents said they wanted Warren to become one-way with parking returned to them & 50% of Schwebell Street residents supported one-way for their street.

The outcome is the report will be open for community consultation soon before a final decision is voted upon.

Road closure in Wilford Lane Newtown:  One resident spoke, but I was not in the Gallery during this discussion.  The outcome was the issue was to return to the Traffic Committee.

Proposed Metro Bus service from Sydenham to Spit Junction in Mosman: A representative from the NSW State Transit Authority spoke about the proposed service saying buses will be the low to the ground, 19 metre ‘bendy-buses,’ air conditioned & wheelchair accessible.  After listing all the pluses of which there

Just to lighten up this post a little, here is a photo of Roundup madness

are many, he then said that Council would be expected to pay for all new signage, the relocation of other signage & a loading zone.  If Council didn’t agree to this, then State Transit may have to think seriously about NOT instigating this service or continuing to provide other bus services.

Sounded very much to me like Council was being held to ransom & Clr O’Sullivan used these exact words a few minutes later.

The cost of the signage is $9,000, which doesn’t seem much, but Marrickville Council is poor & this money will have to be taken away from essential works in the locality. Clr Phillips said with rates pegged at 2.6%, it was going to be very difficult for council to look after services & the state government should pay for the required signage.  This was supported by Clrs Byrne & O’Sullivan.  Clr Byrne said that currently only 17% of routes are accessible routes & only 18% of the buses were accessible.  Clr Macri said it was disappointing that this amount of money was being debated & the community would be prepared to pay for such a bus service.  The motion was carried.

Marrickville Local Environment Plan Update: Clr Phillips was disturbed that the Department of Planning did not want to include the McGill Street Masterplan rezoning in the LEP until Part 3A is settled “which this council is against.” Clr Byrne was concerned that Department of Planning wanted to remove ‘accessibility’ from the LEP.  The LEP will return at a later date.

Duration of council meetings:  All Councillors & the new GM thought meetings were too long.  It was noted that meetings run late when DAs are being decided upon & when many residents want to speak.  It was decided meetings will aim to finish by 10.30pm with a half hour extension if required & that Councillors could use responsibility & discipline & limit their need to speak, especially if others have said the same thing.

Government Information (Public Access) Act: This was about Freedom of Information applications, meaning what information you & I can get hold of.  One person has requested a recording of a council meeting & was supplied with the same.  Marrickville Council keeps audio recordings of their meetings for 3 months after they are approved, so you mustn’t delay if you want one.  You could apply for a transcript, but I have no idea how long they keep these.  However, the written word loses all other nuances that are clear with recordings.

Finally a recision motion was accepted to put mobility parking space outside a residential home in Newtown.  It had previously been declined, but new information regarding the level of disability was submitted.  9pm & the committee meeting was over.

In other council news of late, The Cumberland Courier published an article about Strathfield Councillor Danny Lim, including breach of code of conduct findings against him. http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/in-spotlight-for-wrong-reasons/

Next, also from The Cumberland Courier, Camden Council finances are in surplus largely due to development. I wonder whether Marrickville Council is hoping for similar with Section 94 money helping their financial position to become viable. http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/development-surge-boosts-camden-council-s-coffers/

The Manly Daily asked “Is Warringah Council back on track?” with an article addressing poor behaviour by Councillors & long meetings with one where the agenda was not completed. http://manly-daily.whereilive.com.au/news/story/warringah-councillors-try-to-get-with-agenda/

Lastly, another from the Cumberland Courier concerning Backpackers clogging Sydney’s local streets with their vehicles many up for sale.  Something to think about with the proposed DA for a 132 bed Backpackers in Addison Road Enmore with 7 parking spaces.  See Report from the Gallery – 2nd March 2010. http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/backpacker-car-yards-on-our-streets/

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