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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

The evening opened up with an Extraordinary Council Meeting about our Sister City relationship with the island of Madeira, which was recently struck by flood & landslides killing 42 & injuring 250 people.

Discussion covered recognising the devastating effects of this & other recent natural disasters, Council’s poor financial position, the lack of financial capability to reciprocate to an equal level when representatives from Sister Cities visit Marrickville, the large numbers of Sister Cities we have & whether this should be reduced (imagine, “sorry sister, it’s goodbye”) & developing a policy regarding financial assistance to Sister Cities when Council is having problems financially supporting its own services.

The motion was carried to donate $5,000 from the Sister Cities budget to help with rebuilding the affected area. Mayor Iskandar had the deciding vote.

Then came the Development Assessment Meeting.  One wouldn’t think that DAs are interesting unless they directly concern you, but actually they are.

There were DAs for single block developments, shops & large residential housing.  The gallery was full & some residents waited for 2 hours to speak.  The following is my impressions & thoughts:

People from both sides feel quite passionate & emotional about DAs.  Some were frustrated by the time required for the DA process.

Local residents were concerned about developments they felt would significantly change the streetscape in terms of set-back & visual impact. Height, noise, parking, privacy & loss of light were other issues causing concern.

I have seen these issues raised many times both inside & outside Council meetings.  People who become involved by attending Council meetings, signing petitions or lobbying against certain DAs hold the streetscape of the Inner West in high regard & they want to retain it.  It appears that some people new to the area & developers want to build more modern buildings & this causes a conflict with the other residents.

Given that these developments are being built, I don’t think it will be too many years before the visual outlook of great chunks of Marrickville LGA will be significantly changed.  Unlike Haberfield, which has decreed no modern buildings will be allowed & heritage will be protected at all cost, Marrickville LGA does not seem to have a policy like this.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that if a DA ticks all the boxes, it is up to the councillors as to whether it gets approved.  Naturally, the Councillors have differing perceptions of taste & beliefs as to what constitutes appropriate outlook, as well as what should be knocked down.  Many cherished buildings considered heritage by the Marrickville Heritage Society & other authorities have been demolished over the years.

Last night one developer said the plans for a large  residential development were “unashamedly contemporary,” yet the area this development is situated is one of the most historical in the LGA in terms of housing, other buildings, parks, trees & other historical infrastructure. I see some box-like buildings plonked next to softer, filigree terraces, but I belong to Marrickville Historical Society, so of course I prefer the older buildings.

Only last week Paul Keating said on Lateline, “Well, I can’t teach you good taste” when speaking about the 60 storey glass hotel in red planned for a finger pier at Barangaroo. Interesting that I liked much of the proposed development, but not this particular building.

streetscape

I mention the issue of development & taste because our suburbs are changing.  Marrickville LGA is about to embark on major new development & much of it will be high-rise.  A lot will get through because the state government wants us to have housing for something like another 10,000 people & frankly Marrickville Council desperately needs the money which comes from Section 94 contributions (what the developers pay to Council).

The Councillors need our input either directly or via community lobby groups.  Mayor Iskandar said this in both Marrickville Matters & the Inner West Courier recently.  He also said that the changes coming would affect the community for at least the next 25 years.  If we don’t let the Councillors know what we don’t want, then we will have to accept what the developers give us.

Very soon, a DA for a Backpackers in Addison Road Enmore will come before Council.  This is a 130 plus bed establishment with 7 parking spaces, 2 of them designated Disabled Parking.  Is this of consequence?  Judging by the speakers last night & other recent community action regarding the proposed development on the old Marrickville RSL site, parking is a huge issue in people’s minds.  Council is passing DAs where residents question the parking ratio & sincerely believe parking opportunities will be worse with the new development.

It’s changing times.  Denser living will further impact on parking.  Backpackers often have sufficient funds to buy a car & most residences have at least one car & sometimes more than two.  Council & the government are encouraging public transport use, but living close to a railway station really doesn’t have much of an impact on vehicle ownership yet.  Perhaps later it will when petrol becomes costlier.  For now, there is the problem with a transport system that is already deemed inadequate.  It’s all food for thought.

Moving to trees, a DA at 23 West Street was passed last night.  This site will have 8 double storey modern townhouses built on a block where there are two 9 metre Council protected Canary Island Palm trees & a Fiddle Leafed Fig tree on the boundary of the back property.  Council’s own report stated that Canary Island Palm trees only live for 15-40 years so the development would ‘outlive’ them.  In fact, these trees generally live for 150-160 years, which is an enormous difference.

The Councillors agreed these 2 trees will be relocated to the back of the development, stipulating the root protection zone of the Fig tree will also be protected.  This is a good thing, though I’m sorry we will lose the Palms from the streetscape, which has or is about to lose 31 trees on the opposite side of the street.  Change.

It was good to hear that Palms relocated at Enmore Park for the swimming pool development are doing well.

Another DA passed was 63 Grove Street St Peters which will erect 34 double storey dwellings.  2 mature trees will be removed, yet the landscaping is great.  They intend to plant 10 trees capable of growing to 15 metres, 19 trees reaching 5 metres, 9 trees reaching 7 metres, 10 trees reaching 8 metres & 46 trees reaching 5 metres.  94 trees in total.  They also intend to preserve the current street trees.  I wish all developments planted this percentage of tall growing trees.

One final point of interest is that various sites across Marrickville LGA are considered contaminated, so don’t eat the dirt.  There is some serious toxic stuff around from poor industry practices in the past & dumping.  Like toxins that live on to create problems decades later, we need to think if an upcoming development will also be like that & whether we want to be involved in community consultation to shape our community for the better.

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