This is what Open Council means

The Council election results are in and it is plain that Central Coast residents have overwhelmingly voted for change.

Both the former Wyong and Gosford Councils had their governing cliques, and these accumulated more skeletons in office cupboards than runs on the board. Now, our Councillors-elect are obliged to heed the clear message that voters delivered: for good governance, for bipartisan cooperation, for genuine progress and for authentic consultation. Judging by their own statements made in post-election interviews, this closely correlates with their conversations on the campaign trail and their own aspirations in their new job. How can these aspirations translate into what is known as Open Council or Open Local Government? These are concepts that not only sound attractive but express a set of expectations. People expect that, if there is a development proposal next door or a major change in land use in their neighbourhood, Council will write to them and seek out their views. They expect that they will be given a reasonable time to make a submission and get a fair hearing for their objections and comments. Fourteen days and a minimum threshold of 51 formal objections before a Council meeting will even consider the matter is an affront and the antithesis of Open Council.

People expect that they can attend Council meetings and its committees, hear the debate and be allowed to contribute to it without having to register ahead of time. It is reasonable that some matters must be dealt with in confi dence but these are actually fewer than we have seen occur under both former Councils. Having free and ready access to public interest information in Council’s domain is a bugbear that needs fixing fast.

It really rankles when a formal GIPA application is the only way to get straight answers from one’s own Council. There is a clear expectation that Council minutes include details of how Councillors have voted in decisions. Live streaming of Council meetings doesn’t always make good TV but it certainly is a step towards transparency. People expect that the Councillors they have elected will be able to inform them of Council matters without being gagged by a byzantine Code of Conduct.

They also expect that Councillors can take their side in causes of public concern and advocate for them in the public interest instead of being hamstrung by Council rules. Matters of pecuniary interest ought to be publicly available together with donations to Councillors, searchable and in a transparent up-to-date format. If people make a complaint or make a report to Council’s administration, they would like a response and be able to see their matter progress through the system. A transparent complaints handling process is not merely the bandage on a wound, it is the healing begun. This is what Open Council means and I posit that this, at a minimum, is what the Central Coast voted for on September 9.

Email, Sep 15 Wolfgang Koerner, Point Clare

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