I am writing about the Central Coast Council’s proposal at its July 27 ordinary meeting (agenda item 3.1) to amend the Code of Meeting Practice to reduce the number of council meetings and introduce a trial of webcasting.
During the term of Mr Ian Reynold’s administration, it has become apparent that signifi cant streamlining has occurred. Council meetings have many fewer items and are much briefer than previously, potentially leading to signifi cant effi ciencies and cost savings. Per se, effi ciencies and cost savings are desirable; however, there needs to be a balance with the equally desirable objectives of community engagement in decision-making and open, transparent governance engendering community confi dence in both the process and the decisions made.
In various community groups, I have recently heard numerous expressions of concern that under the ‘no councillors’ regime, there appears no way for individuals or groups to be part of or infl uence forthcoming decisions and policies of council. Many people are feeling somewhat disenfranchised, some are disengaging: “they’ll do whatever they want, no matter what we think”; or becoming rather angry at what is perceived to be anti-democratic topdown control. These include many people who have been volunteers and made real contributions to our community over many years. I alluded to examples of both of these expressions of community concern when I addressed council recently on the formation of the Local Representation Committee. I provided examples of at least 12-15 issues where the community is becoming frustrated and angry with what is seen as a lack of consultation and perceived out-of-touch council decision-making process.
The following are relevant contributing factors: loss of councillors with whom many residents and local groups having had effective contact over many years; business papers no longer generally being printed or posted to community groups; business papers are no longer available in libraries and printed copies are not always available at council meetings; the publication of large (full page) lists of DAs across both former LGAs is, for many, a little overwhelming; the reduction in the number of items being brought to Council and reduced discussion of issues in the public forum; and confusion between ‘on exhibition’ and Have Your Say’. Added to these factors, the community now faces two proposals, resulting in a further reduction of community engagement in decision-making: to effectively halve the number of council meetings, with a meeting in each of the former chambers only every second month; and to deal with all development matters with fewer than 100 objections by delegated authority (Item 1.6 Mayoral Minute July 27).
If council wishes to halve the number of formal meetings, it needs, in my view, to explore an effective means of community engagement during the ‘no councillor’ period; be that via submissions directly to the administrator or CEO or some other mechanism. If that is not done, council will have to manage signifi cant reputational risk, should such a decision exacerbate the growing perceptions of ‘council doesn’t care about us” and “council will keep doing whatever it wants, bugger us”. I am certainly not opposed to a trial of webcasting, but, with respect, that is akin to watching an execution without any knowledge of the process of a trial. I applaud council’s desire to fi nd the most effi cient way of dealing with issues, but it should be within the overall context of effectiveness, which must include inclusiveness of our community in genuine consultation and a process of open, transparent decision-making. I note also, with concern, that this matter does not appear in the relevant ‘on exhibition’ web pages of either the former Gosford Council or Wyong Council, nor has it been part of the ‘Have Your Say forum.
Email, Aug 6, 2016 Kevin Armstrong, West Gosford