SETTING standardised council meeting procedures is one of the state government changes to local government touted as strengthening local democracy and providing greater transparency and accountability. But changes to council meeting procedures adopted by the City of Swan have raised the ire of some ratepayers, 17 of whom made submissions against the changes.
One submission said reducing the time for public speakers at council meetings failed to meet the city’s first objective of ‘better decision making’ and should not be implemented.
“We need more acknowledgement of community concerns not less, even if it involves more effort by the council,’’ the submission said.
Simon Ashby of Woodbridge said the city’s meeting procedures local law 2023 stifled consultation while the public wanted more honesty, consultation, involvement and consideration.
The changes to meeting procedures proposed include a reduction in time from five minutes to three minutes for public deputations, a limitation of public speakers to three for and three against at agenda forums, no questions from councillors permitted for public statements and only one form of deputation permitted per person.
After a speaker’s deputation the laws allow for members, at the discretion of the presiding member, to ask speaker questions relating to the item or seek clarification of issues raised by the speaker but no discussion or debate is permitted. The presiding member may limit the number of questions asked by the councillors and the response by the person making a deputation is limited to one minute.
Mr Ashby said the reduced time afforded to deputations and reduced debate time on matters for councillors was counter intuitive to what the community wanted. In its comments on the local law the Department of Local Government said withdrawal of items Clause 2.3 allowed the chief executive officer to withdraw any item of business from the agenda at any time prior to the item being considered.
“Depending on how the wording of the clause is interpreted, this could potentially occur during a meeting,’’ the department said. “While meeting procedures usually contain a clause of this kind, these clauses usually come with conditions.
“For example, the clause might state that an agenda item can only be withdrawn in certain circumstances (e.g. being out of order) or that the withdrawal can only occur with the agreement of the presiding member.
“The city should keep the above in mind in the event that the clause is retained in its current form.’’
But City of Swan officers did not support a change to the clause.
“It is considered that withdrawing an item from the agenda is within the CEO’s role and is included in the local law to remove ambiguity,’’ the officer’s report said.
“The CEO is required to advise the presiding member (and the council will be informed) and is required to provide his reasons.’’
The item was originally presented at the June 14 meeting. An alternate motion was moved and seconded but a procedural motion was passed for the meeting to move onto the next item of business.