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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

On 4th November I posted here that Council had notified me by letter that:

1.            the Mackey Park Refurbishment Revised Masterplan would be available for the public to view on 3rd December 09 and

2.            be decided at the Services meeting on 8th December 09.

On the 17th November 09 the Inner West Courier published a letter in which I accused Council of not allowing enough time for the public to view the new draft revised Masterplan before the proposed vote on the 8th December.

Today I received a letter from Marrickville Council written on the same day as my letter appeared in the Inner West Courier advising me that the Mackey Park Masterplan was on the agenda & voted on at Council’s Services Committee meeting on 10th November 09.

Hang on…something’s wrong here.  One letter tells me the community can view the Masterplan for 4 days this coming December.  The next letter tells me that Council voted on the Masterplan whilst the community was sitting at home watching the telly & waiting for a chance to view the revised plans & participate in what Council had previously described as valuable consultation.

Considering this is a very significant project attracted huge community input, media attention & rejection of the previous plans by the Councillors, I would have thought that Council wouldn’t want to decide the issue behind the community’s back.

Despite the fact the ultimate decision does address many of the community’s concerns, the process misled & lulled the community into believing it would have a chance to make comment & exercise its right to attend the meeting.  The community needs to have confidence that Council means what it says & doesn’t arbitrarily withdraw the citizens’ fundamental right of political discourse in such serious matters.

A Council staff member kindly offered to mail a copy so I can see what goes where, but one thing is for certain, the 2 glorious Fig trees survived.  I will write again after I view the approved plan.

As I wrote in my last post, I was going to write to Marrickville Council & ask why decisions about trees earmarked for removal were not posted on their web-site.  I did.  This evening I received a response from Council.

I was advised that that Marrickville Council is currently filling several Tree Management positions.  Once these positions have been filled, Council intends to notify people who sent in submissions about trees as well as post on their web-site any decisions about trees earmarked for removal.

This is very good.  I thank Marrickville Council for their prompt response & the decision to openly communicate to the community decisions relating to tree removal.

I have just visited Marrickville Council’s Tree Management Notices page on their web-site & found myself becoming frustrated with the lack of information. Because Council only gives 14 days notice to the community when they intend to remove a tree, I visit this page often.

I have never seen any update about a tree that has been earmarked for removal.  Council designates a deadline date for submissions & includes a link to an arborist report or the like if available & that is the last bit of information we can access via their web-site.  They don’t post an update notifying the community whether a decision has been made to retain the tree, monitor it for a while or go ahead & remove it.  Nor do they send a letter or an e-mail to those who sent submissions asking the tree be retained.

Personally, I do not think personal correspondence is necessary, but I do think there should be regular updates posted on Council’s website regarding the outcome of any tree earmarked for removal before it is removed.  By doing this, Council is demonstrating transparency in decision-making, which I believe the community is entitled.  What is the point of offering the community to write submissions if they don’t let us know the outcomes?

I will be writing to Marrickville Council to request they post further information about any tree they have earmarked for removal & will let you know their response.

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