Decision making at Monash Council does not appear to have changed. Residents using Gardiners Reserve indicate they have had no say in the choice of pitch to be laid, fencing or lighting. EM&U have been asking for several years for Council to consult with stakeholders at the beginning of the decision making process. Stakeholder representatives should be involved in the process from the very beginning and have a role throughout the whole process. Instead we see the usual token effort to involve stakeholders at the last stages.
It is hard to understand how Council has decided on a synthetic pitch yet has no information to pass to residents. On what basis did Council make the decision for a synthetic pitch? Has a procurement contract been signed? If so, with whom? During the 2016 election the community asked for transperancy. The Department of Local Government has called for transperancy. Monash Ratepayers has called for transperancy. Yet the decision about pitch at Gardeners Reserve appears to be far from transparent.
When will the ‘Have Your Say’ section on the Monash Council web site have the option for community members to add items they would like to have a say about?
Below: Letter from resident to EM&U 28 Feb 2017
Dear Empowering Monash and You,
I am writing to you as a resident of Monash with regards to Council’s proposal for a Synthetic pitch at Gardiners Reserve, Sixth Avenue, Burwood.
This major decision seems to have already been made in regards to the type of pitch surface, fencing and lighting without community consultation or understanding the community’s needs. Council are proceeding with a design for an estimated project cost of $2.9 million which will be decided on in the 2017/18 budget.
As residents, we were first informed by reading an article in the Monash Leader in January that mentioned the synthetic pitch, and not by council itself. We rang immediately and within a few days received a letter in the mail, with promise of a consultation in February.
We have since received a second letter inviting us to an informal consultation at Gardiners Reserve on the evening of March 9, with an opportunity to:
– hear about what is being proposed
– understand what the scope of works would be, if Council decides to fund the proposal in its 2017/18 budget
– understand why Gardiners Reserve has been chosen for the proposed synthetic pitch; and
– ask any questions we may have about e project and discuss any concerns.
We are very concerned that the decision to proceed with a synthetic pitch over alternative treatments seems to have already been made, and that we are being consulted very late in the process and are not being given the opportunity to have input into any decisions which will directly affect us.
Despite our requests for information on the decision process so far from Council officers, Councillors and the CEO we have not received any information, and are being told that we have to wait for the consultation to take place.
Worryingly, the consultation on 9 March is not listed in the ‘have your say’ page on Council’s website, and we fear that it may be limited to only one or two streets despite the wider community using this open space.
We hope that you will be able to offer us your valuable advice and support in this matter.
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.
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
Consultation on the Proposed Budget 2015/16 included, the Annual Residents’ Survey, a Councillor Budget Committee, chaired by the Mayor, which included all Councillors and met monthly from December 2014, review and consideration of early Budget submissions, two community information sessions held in March 2015 to discuss the development of the Proposed Budget 2015/16 and a number of other Council consultations held throughout the year impacting on the development of the Budget 2015/16, including the Arts and Cultural Strategy 2014-2022 and the Recreation Strategy 2015-2024.
City of Monash
Information sessions and submissions from community on 2015/16 Budget only possible AFTER draft budget adopted at the April Council meeting. The final Monash Council Budget will go to the Council meeting on Tuesday June 30, 2015.
Prior to the previous Victorian State Election the question of capping of Municipal rate increases to no more than CPI became a differentiating factor between the major parties. Labor proposed a cap, the Liberal/National Coalition opposed it. Labor won and there is now a review being conducted by the Essential Services Commission.
The first stage of consultation has completed and submissions on the discussion paper have closed (on May15). A report, summarising those comments, what has happened so far, and the next steps is now available.
The timeline for next steps is as follows:
Draft Report release
Consultation and public meetings during this period
Submissions to Draft Report close (one month after Draft Report is released)
Final report is given to the Minister for Local Government and the Minister for Finance
Monash Council has been particularly cognisant of the impact of rate increases on ratepayers and proudly maintained the lowest rating status for several years. To maintain that position we have been striving to reduce costs and limit growth without reducing services. As a consequence we already run a very lean organisation, so it will be really difficult if we are squeezed even further.
Keep an eye on the Essential Services Commission page to keep up to date with what’s likely to happen. Remember the Draft Report is due out next month and there will be a period of consultation and public meetings. It’s not clear what changes the public may achieve during this “consultation” but you can be sure many Councils will be watching carefully to minimise the restrictions they may face.
Have you ever noticed the ‘UPCOMING EVENTS’ Section in the right hand column of the screen? You may need scroll down if you need to to find it.
We try to keep this calendar up to date with meetings of interest to EM&U followers. If your group is having a meeting about an issue needing community support we may add it to our calendar. Send details to EMonashU@gmail.com.
Community members at Council meetings adds to the drive for more accountability. Grab your coat and be part of the push for better local governance.
UPCOMING EVENTS THIS WEEK:
WEADD Awareness Day – STOP Elder Abuse – wear purple to show support
Monash Council Committee Meeting to hear submission regarding the Budget, Tuesday 16 June 7.30 pm Monash City Council 293 Springvale Road Glen Waverley
Monash Proposed Sustainability Strategy forum Thursday 18 June 7.30 pm Alvie Hall, Mount Waverley (cnr High Street Road and Alvie Road)
Why is the Council putting away so much cash? Cr Geoff Lake said the Council could not afford $m15 to put Central Car Park underground to create green, open, and accessible open space at street level yet the Council appears to be putting amounts much larger than that away without letting their constituents know what these huge sums are for.
We just completed reviewing the budget. Nothing new has changed. Transparency and accountability issues are still Monash Council’s budget planning and decision making integrity weaknesses.
Not surprising, Council is putting large amounts of unrestricted cash away (like $32 million in next year’s budget and $39 million in 2018/19) for long term capital projects that have not been approved yet. It is common community knowledge that the Glen Waverley Community Hub development (which many people believe is the very reason the 3 aged care facilities were sold) is the key driver of this large unrestricted cash reserve, which grows every year for the next 4 years. The community can expect another premeditated and biased decision making process to be played out as part of tokenistic community engagement to get this project approved and officiated its funding, now hiding through Unrestricted Cash & Working Capital Reserves.
Last Monash Council election the people of Mulgrave Ward, which takes in Brandon Park, voted in Cr Paul Klisaris, Cr Micaela Drieberg and Cr Robert Davies. In the latest wrangle on Council Cr Robert Davies has lost his fight to acquire a change room at the Brandon Park Football Club. The people of Brandon Park wanted that change room. Cr Paul Klisaris defended the council’s move to walk away from the project. Cr Davies has stated pulling out of the project was comeback for not declaring which way he will vote on the draft budget.
PUBLIC FEEDBACK ON THE BUDGET WILL BE RECEIVED AT COUNCIL UNTIL JUNE 1. THE COUNCIL HAS TO RESPOND TO THIS FEEDBACK BEFORE VOTING ON THE BUDGET. IT IS VERY HARD TO GET CHANGES AT THIS STAGE. PUBLIC FEEDBACK NEEDS TO BE WELCOMED FROM NOVEMBER EACH YEAR TO ENABLE REAL COMMUNITY INPUT.
Tonight’s (16 Dec) Monash Council meeting agenda includes a motion ‘Taking Council to the People’ by rotating Council meeting venues in 2015. The goals of the motion are not stated by the title implies the aim is improve community access to Council proceedings.
As Monash Council invites feedback from constituents I decided to provide feedback on an issue I had been pondering for some time: live streaming and recording of meetings. My previous work places used such communication methods and my personal view was this would greatly aid community education and engagement in Council meetings.
What do you think?
Would you like to see live streaming and /or recording of meetings?
Please read the correspondence below and leave your comments.
My reply to Monash Council email 16 Dec 2014. Note: original Email reply received from Monash Council on 15 Dec 2014 is in black text with my response in red text.
Further below, in green text is my original email 14 Dec 2014.
I am rather taken aback at the reply I have received (on your behalf) to my email 15 Dec 14 requesting Council consider recording and streaming of Council meetings. In particular in regard to discovering a review of Local Law 1 was carried out in 2013: I have no recollection of this and I wonder whether there was any public consultation. So soon after a review I would have expected Monash to have more transparent and engaging meeting procedures.
Further comments to the email are inserted in red italics in your email text below.
I refer to your 14 December 2014 e-mail to the Mayor, Cr Klisaris, regarding webcasting/streaming of Council meetings.
The Mayor has requested me to provide you with a response on his behalf.
Thank you. I await the Mayor’s response on issues not addressed in the reply email e.g. the need to revamp Public Question Time.
An internal review of the Council’s Meeting Procedures Local Law No.1 was undertaken in late 2013. Part of the review included investigating webcasting/streaming of Council meetings.
The community is very aware of the review of Local Law 3 but this is the first I have heard of a review of Local Law 1. Evidently community feedback was not sought on this process. Community members who have tried to communicate with Council have much constructive feedback they could input to such a process. Would you make public all aspects of Local Law 1 that were considered during this review and the nature of public consultation?
The review found the following:
A small number of Councils currently stream Council meetings. These include Greater Dandenong, Nillumbik and Hobsons Bay.
As far as I can ascertain the following Councils are currently streaming or recording meetings and making these available online: Bayside (last recording 8 Dec 14), Campaspe (16 Dec), Cardinia (17 Nov 14), Hobsons Bay (2 Dec 14), Manningham (2 Dec 14), Wellington (5 Nov 14).
The small number of Councils streaming may be in part due to the poor financial situation some Councils are in. Monash Council is in a position to allocate funds to such a project and with 2014-2015 Budget currently being formulated revisiting this issue is timely. Unfortunately, there is no opportunity for community members to have input on the drafting of the budget.
The Shire of Cardinia and the cities of Melbourne and Greater Dandenong were involved in webcasting some years ago, when the Municipal Association of Victoria assisted interested Councils with funding, for a trial of webcasting. Both Melbourne and Cardinia ceased their webcasting, once the trial concluded. The ongoing costs, support and risk-related issues (please see the comments below from Council’s insurer) appear to have played a part in that decision.
The City of Greater Dandenong last posted a recording online for its meeting on 8 December 2014, the Shire of Cardinia on 17 November 2014. If they are still recording they have found the MAV trial had some worthwhile results and, by implication, have a case for value gained against cost.
Cardinia Shire Council recently re-visited the issue, but resolved not to pursue it. It costed the establishment of streaming at approximately $60,000. This cost involves the purchase of equipment, such as cameras, technical set up in the Council Chamber, technical support at meetings and costs for a carrier. The costs excluded staff training and possible editing of content. Cardinia’s assessment was that the cost of providing the service, relative to the likely demand within, and benefit to, the Cardinia community, appeared to be a major impediment at this point in time.
Cardinia Shire Council must have valued the importance of transparency and communicating with the community. They are using the less expensive option of MP3s to put 2014 meeting recordings online.
Was a comparison made of the requirements in Cardinia compared to the requirements in Monash? What other investigations were made of set ups for other Councils e.g. Melton where only audio recording is used? Do we need ‘state of art’ technology to meet the goal of communicating with the community? The appearance of an impediment in Cardinia is hardly a case for not pursuing the possibilities further in Monash. As the technology and skills are readily available across local industry and government sectors the Council needs to explore the options from many perspectives rather than randomly quoting an example.
The City of Yarra also considered webcasting, but decided not to pursue it. Issues of privacy, consent from members of the public to broadcast their images, etc, were cited as part of the reason Yarra was not pursuing webcasting.
The issue of content management has been raised by a number of Councils in relation to their assessment of whether to pursue webcasting or podcasting.
Privacy was another matter of concern. Concerns were raised about the reach of the ‘world wide web’ and individuals’ (usually members of the public) identities being placed on it. Consent would have to be obtained from any person who wished to make a submission or ask a question, for their appearance at the Council meeting to be recorded. These concerns were expressed where a Council provides for a high level of engagement/participation in a Council meeting by the community.
Again these issues need to be raised but with the purpose of providing a solution e.g. Greater Dandenong Council reads questions on behalf of the community member asking the question. Examples of Policies and Procedures for dealing with the issues are available online on government, university and other business web sites. As Monash persists with submitted questions the day before the meeting it would be easy to put a permission slip on a pro forma to be used. The questioner could tick boxes as to whether they will be filmed or a Council Office requested to ask their question and that they have read conditions/requirements/disclaimer regarding giving permission to be filmed/recorded. I accept a legal perspective on this approach is needed.
Webcasting has received a significant amount of attention in the sector in recent years, from a risk management perspective. Council’s insurer has provided advice, of a general nature, to Councils on webcasting. The insurer has listed the following risks relating to webcasting of Council meetings:
Public Council meetings are an open forum of statements, questions and answers. Occasionally, some things that are said may be regarded as offensive or defamatory, even though they are not at law, written material. When such statements occur during a meeting that is not webcast the potential for damage is confined to the audience in attendance.
In contrast, when a meeting is webcast the audience is potentially far greater, increasing the likelihood and/or severity of potential liability. Outlined below are some of the risks associated with webcasting, including defamation. The risks identified generally relate to the content of a meeting and the legal effect of publishing the content over the internet.
Councillors and members of the public attending meetings are not outside the law or responsibility to act in an ethical manner. The rest of the workforce conducts itself in an ethical and law abiding manner. Why should Monash Councillors be exempt? Are they breaking the law or acting unethically now? If a Councillor believes their behaviour in Council will step outside the law e.g. defaming a person, infringing copyright, I really hope they will step down and allow the community to elect a representative who can perform to regular work place quality standards.
In properly conducted Council meetings wouldn’t the risk factor be low? Did legal staff give an estimate of what it might be? Can copyright be breached and defamation occur in a vetted 100 word question?
There are ‘safety’ measures that can be employed to further minimise risk e.g. time delays between Chamber taping and publishing on the web, provision for the recording to be halted (and restarted) should a legal issue arise and prior notice (with reasons) for not recording some agenda items. This technology is not new, but widely used in workplaces. There is plenty of experience to draw on.
In summary Council needs to seek further appropriate legal advice and develop policy and procedures in accordance with best practice in this field. A Council that has cash reserves, such as Monash Council, should be able to undertake this and consider insurance.
However, before a cost benefit analysis can be effectively done the issue needs to be put to the community. The people who most need this facility do not appear to have been consulted.
Defamation occurs when statements are made about a person, which causes injury to that person’s reputation. A defamatory statement can be in written form, or in verbal form. Council may be liable for defamatory statements made by Councillors and the public during a Council meeting. This liability is increased if the meeting is webcast.
Infringement of Copyright
A copyright owner has certain exclusive rights over their work. Infringement of copyright occurs when a person uses copyright material without the consent of the owner and the use contravenes one or more of the ‘exclusive rights’ of the owner. If someone at a Council meeting reads material subject to copyright, without the consent of the copyright owner, the person may have violated the copyright owner’s exclusive right to reproduce the material, if published as a webcast.
Breach of Privacy/Disclosure of Personal Information
Councils are required to comply with the Information Privacy Principles contained within the thenInformation Privacy Act (now superseded by the Data Protection and Privacy Act 2014). Councils may be liable for breach of the Information Privacy Principles if Councillors or Council Officers are found to have used, or disclosed, personal, health or sensitive information about individuals during a Council meeting and that information is webcast.
Publishing of Offensive Material
Council may be liable for a criminal offence under Commonwealth censorship legislation if it publishes content through a webcast relating to sex, drugs or violence, which is likely to cause offence to a reasonable person.
Councils are covered for any defamatory ‘publication’ that occurs as a result of webcasting activities subject to the other terms and conditions of its insurance policy. The policy would, for example, cover the Council’s liability for inadvertently webcasting a deliberate, malicious defamatory comment. However, a Councillor or Officer knowingly making a deliberately malicious or defamatory statement would not be covered.
Councils are provided with coverage in risk areas of defamation, infringement of copyright and privacy breaches. But that coverage does not extend to liability arising from publishing defamatory statements made by third parties i.e. members of the public. Coverage is also subject to existing policy conditions, in particular a Council demonstrating that it acted with ‘reasonable care’.
Pre-recorded or live broadcasts
The insurer recommends that Councils pre-record the webcast and ensure that it is thoroughly reviewed and signed off by an authorised member of Council before the webcast is made publicly available. For those Councils which prefer to broadcast meetings live or only with a short delay, it is important that a procedure is followed for the identification and treatment of problematic content (e.g. termination of webcast). A Council’s decision to pre‐record or broadcast live should take into consideration the level of risk exposure it is willing to retain.
A Council would need to consider whether the webcast will be made available for download at a later date or will only be accessible via Council’s website as a live broadcast. Both present risks.
A downloadable webcast can be viewed several times and may reach a greater audience than a live broadcast, thus increasing the potential of a claim arising. On the other hand, defamatory content is more likely to be found in a live broadcast which has undergone little or no editing compared to a pre-recorded (downloadable) webcast.
Members of the Public
A Council should ensure members of the public attending the Council meeting are notified of the webcast and obtain their written consent to record and publish their likeness and/or voice as part of the webcast.
Councils may consider accompanying the webcast with a disclaimer, to provide some limited protection from liability. Generally, a disclaimer will include words to the effect that the opinions or statements made during the course of the Council meeting are those of the particular individual and not the opinions or statements of Council. The disclaimer can be included as part of the broadcast or separately as a link on the webpage prior to opening the link to the actual webcast. Councils should seek independent legal advice on the appropriate wording of a disclaimer to ensure that it meets Councils specific requirements.
Council should seek independent legal advice if in doubt about the appropriateness of the content of a webcast, prior to making it available.
For the reasons articulated above, the Council has not pursued webcasting/streaming of Council meetings.
This email, Monash Council’s answer to feedback on an issue I know to be of concern to some of the community (streaming or recording of meetings), indicates no willingness to engage the community. Once again it appears Council has acted in a reactive rather than proactive manner, dismissing feedback rather than taking it on. Council could, for example, engage the community and contact the new Local Government Minister, LGAV, other Councils, businesses, to create the possibility of working through this issue and improving Council communication.
I look forward to responses to my questions above.
Email sent to Mayor Cr Paul Klisaris 14 Dec 2014
I note with much interest your motion for Tuesday evening’s meeting to take the Council meetings to different venues throughout 2015. An initiative to encourage more community members to be at least present at Council meetings is very welcome.
May I suggest the issue of live streaming and recording of meetings be revisited (Monash Leader August 6 2013). The live streaming and recording of meetings will greatly increase the opportunities to educate and involve the community in local government. In particular Monash’s increasing senior and elderly community will have access to Council proceedings – if not in their homes through the Library and Senior Citiizens groups that have access to and capability with technology. Younger community members may also be more connected through such media use. Councillors, the community and the media will have access to accurate records of proceedings facilitating better reporting, communication and understanding.
Cr Drieberg indicates in the August 6 article that visits to public areas are a replacement for recordings. I contend, while Listening Posts are a welcome initiative, they largely serve a different purpose to the streaming and recording of meetings. The Listening Posts give members of the public the chance to pursue personal interests or to clarify concerns, whereas live streaming and recording of meetings gives the public a broader view of Council’s function and instant and efficient access to local government processes and procedures. A potential for translating meetings exists.
Below I have listed some Councils who are already streaming and/or recording – it is far from an exhaustive list. It would be nice to see Monash Council up there with the more innovative Councils and taking on more progressive and innovative approaches to community engagement.
I would like to point out I was going to put this in a question for Public Question Time but I am so fed up with the antiquated process Monash hides behind. I have squeezed my questions into the required 100 words only to find the meaning of the question is harder to discern, stood there and read it out and listened to a reply being read, a reply that usually does not address the essence of my query. Others express similar experiences. Public Question Time is a farce. Proactive Councils allow more questions per person, questions to be submitted just before the meeting starts, longer time periods for question time, a right of reply and public submissions on matters of interest. Hopefully you can develop Public Question Time into a more productive contributor to Council meetings and communication with the local community.
Please note I have copied this email to all Councillors, Dr Andi Diamond, EM&U supporters and the Leader Press.
Monash Council has received ongoing criticism from its constituents for a lack of high level or meaningful engagement with the community. In 2013 protesters against the sale of council owned residential aged care were told the Council bases its public participation on the IAP2 spectrum. However, public scrutiny revealed only the lower levels of the spectrum are being used. There have been repeated requests for collaboration and empowerment of the community. This means involving the community in decision making.
Now Melbourne Melbourne City Council and Darebin Council have been involving their communities in decision making though Citizens Juries. Through this process the community is involved in deciding where funds need to be spent and making recommendations on rate rises. The success of the projects will ultimately depend on uptake of the Juries’ recommendations as final decisions are made.