When Open Forum is not open
Addressing council can be a daunting thing to do.
You need be motivated, passionate or upset on a subject to cross the threshold from "There is nothing I can do" to "Yes, I want to make a difference".
You ruminate about it, jot down some notes, decide not to and then finally look up the way to apply.
Surprisingly, you can apply to address council meeting up to 10am on the same day of their fortnightly meeting - impressive.
So having honed my speech I submit.
"This is being reviewed in relation to Open forum requests," I get in reply.
Then a few hours later: "You are not approved to speak tonight."
"There is not an opportunity to appeal" was the final ruling.
I did get a call and finally manage to speak to a council manager a few days later, who apologised and was able to explain the rules.
It seems the title of my speech contravened one of the guidelines.
Of the 12 guidelines, the two key ones are:
2. In Public Forum, you can only speak about an item that is listed on the agenda.
3. In Open Forum, you should not speak on items that have previously be determined by Council or which are currently on public consultation or exhibition.
Number two I understand, but number three ... really ?
The Administrator has commented he wants more public feedback, but how are we to allow open debate when we are limited?
In my opinion, rule three should be modified or scrapped.
I did change the title and was allowed to submit my speech and this time was allowed to speak.
I did have great support from council staff who made time for a quick practice session to ensure the technology would work.
So on the night after my nervous three minutes, it was response time.
I did get an on-air reply from director Cox, who acknowledged that the public are currently excluded from commenting on height rezoning, something impacting the delicate Ettalong foreshore.
However, he did manage skip over the fact that public consultation showing 89 per cent of respondents did not want to change the path at Mt Ettalong.
For a $1.7m project, you could probably save $400,000, just by listening to the public you are there to serve.
And we wonder why the council are in so much debt.
Email, 15 Oct 2021
Julian Bowker, Umina