Category Archives: Feedback

Must read! Investigation into the transparency of local government decision making

Council Transparency

The Investigation into the transparency of local government decision making has been completed and the report publicly released.

I took the time to read through this report and found it very informative and interesting that it revealed some issues relating to Councils. Community members had reasonable concerns about transparency in their Councils and in fact there were many complaints  made to the Ombudsman.

“This investigation arose from a single complaint about a decision made in a closed council meeting – a practice that we found to be widespread across Victoria. Some complaints resonate as a theme: local councils continue to account for some 25 per cent of jurisdictional complaints to my office – more than 3,400 last year. People complaining to my office about council decisions periodically refer to the decision being made “in secret” or “behind closed doors” as evidence to support their concerns. I tabled the report into the original complaint in June 2016, but this has been a far wider investigation, looking at the transparency of decision-making within local government in Victoria.” Source: Deborah Glass Ombudsman.

As part of the investigation 79 Victorian councils were surveyed and 12  were selected to be examined in detail.  

The areas of focus were:

the closure of council meetings and special committee meetings to     the public

• the handling of confidential matters

• the nature and quality of audio and visual records of meetings and       the public’s ability to access records

• the scope and exercise of delegated council functions/powers and       administrative actions; and the reporting of these to council and           the public

• the nature and content of information discussed in ‘assemblies of         councillors’

Due to the findings, there were specific recommendations made in the report to be introduced or implemented. Here is a summary of   some of the recommendations or suggestions:

• relating to the Local Government Act, a requirement for more              detailed reasons in relation to the closure of meetings to be                    specified in the minutes and that embarrassment to, or potential          adverse criticism of, council are not reasons to close a meeting to        the public

implement a mandatory ‘Code of Councillor Conduct’ training               program       

• conflict of interest requirements to extend to advisory committee      members and to have an updated list of committees on a Council’s      website                               

• ensure that agendas are made available to public five days before a     council meeting

 public questions and answers to be recorded in minutes,  through       audio or audio-visual recording and publication, as well as posting       recorded open meetings to council websites

Did you know about section 15 Your right to freedom of expression’ under the Human Rights Charter?  

“People are free to say what they think and want to say. They have the right to find, receive and share information and ideas. In general, this right might be limited to respect the rights and reputation of other people, or for the protection of public safety and order.” Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

How does this right play a role in Council? As stated in the report: 

“Councils also need to take care regarding restrictions on public question time. Unreasonable restrictions have the potential to be incompatible with not only the right to participate in public life, but the right to freedom of expression in section 15 of the Charter. For example, where councils require questions in writing prior to meetings, they should ensure there is appropriate assistance available to those who may have difficulty placing their question in writing. A number of councils mentioned they offered such assistance. Councils should also ensure that any restriction on the content of questions or submissions by members of the public at meetings which could be considered to limit their right to freedom of expression is appropriately balanced with any lawful restrictions reasonably necessary to respect the rights and reputation of other persons or national security, public order, public health or public morality.”

You will also find a summary of transparency in the report:
What does a transparent council look like?
What does a transparent council look like?
Page 150 -151 of the Investigation into the transparency of local government decision making report. Click to view!

Link to full report: Victorian Ombudsman: Investigation into the transparency of local government decision making

Related links: 

Local government transparency a postcode lottery: Victorian Ombudsman

Victorian public being shut out of local council meetings, ombudsman says

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass says councils must be more transparent over their decisions

Empowering Monash & YOU post – Transparency in Council 

Empowering Monash & YOU post – Feedback to Council: Streaming/recording of meetings

Comments are welcome!

HarikNG – Administrator and Contributer

Empowering Monash & YOU

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Announcement! EM&U Founder Gayle Nicholas has stepped down from her role!

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I would like to announce that Gayle Nicholas who is the founder member of Empowering Monash and YOU has suspended her role with EM&U while standing for Council. Gayle and I established EM&U to provide information to community members and to give them the opportunity to have a say, such as community issues relating to Local Government.

Thank You Gayle Nicholas

I would like to thank Gayle for her outstanding role with EM&U and strongly advocating for community engagement with Monash Council.

Please keep in mind though EM&U will still be running as usual and team members or contributors will still be involved.  If you have any enquires please do not hesitate to contact us by email at eMonashu@gmail.com or through the ‘Contact Us‘ page.

EM&U’s role does not involve election campaigns so if you would like to contact Gayle Nicholas, details below.

Facebook Page Page: @Gayle4Monash 

 

Hariklia Nguyen – Co-founder of Empowering Monash and YOU (EM&U)

Have your say! – The Local Government Act Review Paper

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The government is reviewing the Local Government Act and proposing to make changes that will make Councils more efficient, transparent and accountable, as well as enhancing community participation.

Here are some of the key new reforms proposed:

  • A stronger role for mayors to lead councils
  • Greater consistency in council structures (wards) to make elections fairer
  • Simpler electoral rolls and voting rules
  • Community engagement
  • Accountable and high performing councils
  • More autonomy for councils to cut unnecessary red-tape
  • A consistent, modern rating system

Have a say!

Community members have an opportunity to provide feedback relating to the Local Government Act Review Directions Paper or proposed changes. Feedback can be provided by making  a submission or viewing the summary ‘At a Glance’ and completing  a quick poll.

Link to The Local Government Act Review Directions Paper website: Act for the Future – Directions for a new Local Government Act.

What do you think of your Council? Do you think changes need to be made?

No Jargon, Plain English! – An inexpensive solution for Monash Council

Council information jargon
Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you seen this article?

Monash Council needs gun communications expert to decipher planning jargon into ‘plain English’. Monash Leader Mayor Paul Klisaris says Monash Council might have “lost some people’s interest” with jargon in the first mail-out.  – Source: Monash Council needs gun communications expert to decipher planning jargon into ‘plain English’ 

Perhaps Monash council should have joined the ‘Drop the Jargon’ day and pledged to use plain language! This day was for professionals, health services and local governments to challenge themselves to use plain language.  www.dropthejargon.org.au  

Monash council needs to understand what community consultation and engagement is, as if they did they would have asked the community if a communications expert is needed or the best option to help the community understand information or plans provided to them.

This is what I propose!

Why waste funds on hiring a communications expert when there is a simple way to communicate information to the community?

The best way to provide information to the community is to implement or commence a Community Information Reference Group. Community members can join to review information, including budget and proposed planning documents to ensure that fact sheets are written in plain English and cater to all consumers or community members. This way the community will understand the information provided to them and can have a say. The council can follow examples from health/community services which already provide information, that is accessible and easy to understand and reviewed by community members as part of the Standard 2: Partnering with Consumers. 

A great example is what Link Health and Community has introduced. Their publications or information are reviewed and approved by consumer members. They also have a vital role in producing their quarterly magazine to ensure that it is in a format that is suitable for community members.  

Other Councils such as Mitchell Shire Council have prepared plans in consultation with the community and developed in a format to communicate to community in a clear way. Link: Wallan Structure Plan, Mitchell Shire Council

Review Council Information
Image courtesy of ddpavumba at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This option would be more cost effective as well as Council consulting and engaging with the community. Hiring a communications expert would only assist short time and will not cater to the changing diversity and demographics of the community. Community members are the experts! They are the ones that will read the information provided to them!

Council could commence a long term transparent Information Reference or Working Group and consider these points:

  • Diverse community members should have input in reviewing information or plans to ensure all are catered for
  • Run informal meetings monthly or what members prefer to review items and ensure there are no barriers for members of the group to attend and participate
  • Members to have input on the planning and delivery of information to the public
  • A community engagement officer to facilitate the meetings and take notes or record of discussions, but members should have authority over the decision making
  • Councillors should be invited to the group to listen and seek advice, not as members of the group, as this will ensure community members will have unbiased feedback and authority over discussions and decisions
  • Members to decide on guidelines that are suitable for the committee and reviewing information

Info standing man EM&U Stuart MilesLinks to more info:

Example of a plain English guide

Victorian Government Accessible Communication Guidelines

Communicating data with Colour: a guide to producing accessible maps and visual data

Communicate Clearly – A Guide to Plain English

The challenges of communicating the law to the public

Accessible Communication Guides – Whitehorse Council

Darebin’s Inclusive Communications Charter

Wyndham Cruiser – Wyndham Council

Green Waverley: Research supports a green space for diverse uses

With more criticism of Council this week over spending $$$ on one of the larger cultural groups within Monash, (see http://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/east/monash-council-defends-decision-to-spend-37000-on-free-lunch-for-greek-easter/story-fngnvlxu-1227308571917) the value of an open space where many cultural groups can interact informally becomes apparent.

At least two community groups are calling for Central Car Park in Glen Waverley to be an open space for the purpose of interaction between cultural groups.

Many in the community are expressing outrage at the high rise development planned for the central area. High rise development planning is excessive, does not meet the needs of people living in the area and has ignored community views. Social isolation and health issues are a likely consequence of intensive high rise living. The community are asking for a place to unite, to come together with others from their own and different cultural groups. A place where no one group has control and smaller groups have equal access.

The call for open space (“neutral ground’) to support interaction between the different cultural groups is supported by research:

Research by Dunnett, Swanwick and Woolley (2002) found that local residents often identify green spaces as the centre of their community (see Improving Urban Parks, Play Areas and Green Spaces). By using outdoor spaces to formally and informally bring together people from a variety of cultures, ages, ethnicities and classes, urban green spaces increase social integration and interaction among local residents. Such spaces encourage a diverse range of uses – some of which stem from culture – and serve as “neutral ground,” according to Swanwick, Dunnett and Woolley (see “Nature, Role and Value of Green Space in Towns and Cities: An Overview,” in Built Environment, 2002, 29(2)). Open, accessible green spaces are essential for local people to maintain cultural identity and build social ties.

Source: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/sustainability/2014/02/26/urban_parks/

There are various views on how such open space could be designed, but much agreement that it should be a place for the people. There are multiple options on how this could be achieved and ideas include:

View from IKON over Central car park - will this become a view over more high rise development?
View from IKON over Central car park 2014.  If current plans are implemented this will be a view to multi-storey  buildings.  Many community members would like it to be a view to a green a leafy park – a place for the people.

What views do you have? How will  high rise development affect the community in Monash?

Related Links:

Green Waverley: may we have some green space?

Central Car Park development may pave way for cultural inclusivity

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