Newcastle Greens candidate for Ward Three, Keith Parsons, speaks out against the practice of confidential council meetings and discusses the need for a more transparent council with greater community input.
Watch the video above and read his letter to the Editor below.
Last Tuesday, there was no scheduled council meeting and the night was used for a “closed workshop”. What justified it being closed to the community and media? Only two of the six agenda items were possibly confidential and could have been accommodated within a public briefing anyway.
Why should issues like (ironically) the community survey, a drainage regime at Marylands Creek and coastal zone management options be confidential?
What input do councillors have in determining what should be closed?
Confidential briefings/workshops commenced in the 1999-2004 term and were minimised during the last term. However, the majority of the current electedcouncil and management have jointly institutionalised this process. It also creates a perception of unofficial, behind-closed-doors decisions.
As a former councillor , I recall that during 2008, most of the current councillors as candidates sat in the public gallery through many briefings and alsoheard councillors’ questions and staff or consultants’ responses. After they were elected this changed.
A legislative loophole allows such closed non-meetings to occur, despite being at odds with the fundamental principles of open, transparent and accountable local government.
Council recently approved a “City Engagement Charter”, pledging to be “accessible and inclusive”, “actively seeking input into decision-making” and “open and transparent”.
Ironically, two councillor workshops to formulate the charter were held as confidential meetings and management recommended last December that the draft charter be endorsed without an exhibition for public comment. This only occurred on the initiative of Greens Cr. Michael Osborne and nothing in theeleven public submissions was taken up.
Why is it that this elected council is so reluctant to participate in public open forums?