Why Gympie council minutes cannot be relied on
OPINION: Live streaming is the answer
RE Wayne Plant’s letter “Council Secrecy not new” (The Gympie Times, October 22), anyone who appears to be well informed about “in committee” decisions would know that Ian Petersen could not speak out about “in committee matters” when in office.
It’s part of the Act.
Using or engineering figures to suit one’s argument and then using them to vilify and undermine the reputation of a past long serving councillor is reprehensible and comments such as “fairyland fiction” give the impression that this version of the numbers demonstrates that secret “in committee” activities have not increased.
He refers to the record of minutes of meetings as being a true record when in fact they cannot be relied upon as being full and factual records of events.
They are prepared prior to a meeting and in many cases are abridged versions of what actually took place.
Without live streaming that will always be the case.
A case in point is the change in the minutes from a perceived Conflict of Interest to a Material Personal Interest recorded against Cr Glen Hartwig.
To demonstrate how figures can be extrapolated to reflect another point of view I have constructed an overview using the record of meetings under the leadership of Cr Mick Curran between April 13, 2016 and September 20, 2017.
Council went into committee 23 times and dealt with 56 items in secret.
The discussions during this time included some of the most non-transparent decisions that have affected this community during this council’s tenure.
They included the commencement of the Rattler debacle and the massive financial blow-out, the awarding of the ARC contract to a Victorian company which ratepayers pay to manage while the company keeps the profits and the establishment of the Water Business Unit, information about which council withheld and had to be instructed to reveal the details to the public.
Figures taken from minutes don’t always reveal the true nature or the extent of the secrecy.
Is Mr Plant defending the CEO or is he trying to divert the debate away from the “past three plus years” under Cr Curran leading up to an election because transparency has come under increased scrutiny from concerned citizens about the direction this council is taking Gympie?
This secrecy has negatively impacted on council equity and also brought unprecedented rate increases and compulsory extra fees, levies and charges which many ratepayers are finding difficult to afford.
Ray Goldfinch, Gympie
KEEP READING FOR ANOTHER LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Withholding information could be disastrous
PITY The Gympie Times doesn’t have a comedy section.
Mr Plant’s letter of November 2 would fit well. He has obviously been taking smoke and mirrors mathematics lessons from his neighbour.
I must admit I am not so bored with my life that I would pore through about 11 years of minutes but I did study 2008 and I did note some relevant facts from the past 11 years.
His comparison of the number of in committee items is obviously slewed by the fact that many legitimate in committee items have been discontinued.
In the days when we had a real council, we would have two days of budget meetings each year which produced for example in 2008 a total of 28 “in committee” items.
Searching minutes for the last three years, it appears that draft budget meetings don’t occur or are not minuted thereby hiding a lot of in committee items.
Also in the days of a real council we had regular agenda items listing properties with outstanding rates, matters before the courts, current and potential disputes, etc.
Those reports were part of the process of keeping councillors up-to-date, and obviously, it was entirely appropriate that those lists were in committee.
Naturally, Mr Plant neglected to mention that these agenda items have also been discontinued. And that is part of the problem.
When council has only 12 or 13 half-day meetings per year (compared to 60 or more full-day meetings per year in previous councils) not only is less information available to the community, but also there is a vast amount of decision making completely hidden from public scrutiny, compounding the fact that his statistical analysis is a completely illogical comparison.
Comparing the number of in committee items when most items don’t even come to council is simplistic and misleading.
Another warning sign is the preordained appearance of the meetings.
It is a fact of life that councils face numerous contentious and controversial situations.
It is utterly improbable that all councillors hold the same view on every issue facing council, but to the casual observer at a council meeting, it would appear that (contrary to the spirit of the Local Government Act) consensus has already been established at some unminuted meeting prior to the general meeting.
The actual number of in committee items is only a minor problem.
It is the nature and quantum of the information that is taken into committee or not even reported to council at all that is the real problem.
Mr Plant’s attempt to defend the CEO is admirable, but I can’t help reflecting on the findings of the Wilan Commission of inquiry on the Port Maquarie Glasshouse which was critical of the fact that information was withheld from the community and the council, with disastrous results on several fronts.
I would hate that to happen here.