PROPOSED changes to Horsham Rural City Council’s meeting procedures are once again a contentious issue.
Councillors voted in favour to adopt a motion at the council’s August meeting on Monday night that included a number of inclusions and amendments to the local law relating to meeting procedures.
Changes include giving the chief executive officer the power to reject any notice of a motion that is “too vague, offensive or unlawful”.
Cr Josh Koenig said he supported of the changes.
“The majority of these council meetings have been a dog’s breakfast – it’s embarrassing,” he said.
“I shouldn’t be coming to council meetings with my head hung low. I’m proud to be a councillor and know that every meeting we’ll have a debate.
“I see supporting this as supporting the stability of our council. I’m a ratepayer too, but if I was in the community’s place, I wouldn’t be too happy with how things are going.”
Cr John Robinson called for a point of order before the vote, claiming certain appendices in the report were in breach of the United Nations Human Rights Charter.
Those appendices included one that suggested the removal of the clause where councillors could discuss “other issues as raised by the community” and “other issues of concern to the councillor” during councillor reports.
Cr Robinson also highlighted another that suggested councillor reports needed to be submitted in writing to the chief executive officer prior to meetings.
He was also critical of an appendice that suggested councillor reports would no longer be read or addressed by councillors during public meetings; however acknowledgements could be made.
Cr Robinson said the changes were in breach of the UN charter.
“We started discussing the issue (of changing the meeting procedures), then went to the community for consultation,” he said.
“We received 16 responses, and at least 15 of those voiced concerns that they will loose their ability to be represented in the council.
“If we go down the track of not reporting issues in a community sphere, we’re very much looking at contradicting the charter.”
Chief executive Sunil Bhalla disagreed and said everything in the changes complied with the charter.
“The submissions have been made and the procedure doesn’t prevent councillors from raising issues,” he said.
Mayor Pam Clarke said the council had sought extensive legal advice regarding the changes.
Cr Robinson then asked to view a copy of the legal advice, to which Cr Clarke said the document was the legal advice itself.
“The document is in front of you,” she said.
“I hope that this approach will help stop the abuse of the chamber and improve the way we all behave during meetings.”
Cr Mark Radford moved to carry the motion with the recommendations.
“Only time will tell whether these changes can be judged in time to whether they are improvements,” he said.
Cr Robinson said council needed to listen to the responses from its community feedback survey.
“We’re taking the public face away through this order. I fear that we will only be able to talk about the nice things,” he said.
“If you adopt this, you will be turning your back on the community. We are fast losing the confidence of them.”
Cr Grimble shared Cr Robinson’s concerns.
“I have real concerns around the local laws; we changed the meeting frequency during the height of an issue,” he said.
“These changes are helping to take away our authority, transparency and accountability.”
Crs Clarke, Radford, Gulvin, Power and Koenig voted in favour of the motions, while Crs Grimble and Robinson voted against. The motion was carried.