Category Archives: Meetings

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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City of Monash Council – New Mayor and Deputy Mayor!

Empowering Monash and You

Cr Rebecca Paterson has been elected Mayor for City of Monash Council and Cr Stuart James, Oakleigh Ward Councillor as Deputy Mayor. Hope you will work together with community to achieve many things during your term.

“Cr Paterson said she would be a strong voice on the issues of youth mental health, gender equity and the prevention of violence against women and children.” Link to article page: https://www.monash.vic.gov.au/About-Us/News/Rebecca-Paterson-elected-Monash-Mayor

For minutes of council meeting visit the council website. Link: Special Council Meeting 3 November 2016. 

City of Monash Election Results – Meet Your New Councillors!

Monash Council

The City of Monash Election results were finalised on Sunday 30 October 2016. The following candidates were successful and elected:

Glen Waverley ward

Geoff Lake (re-elected)
Lynnette Saloumi (first-time Councillor)

Mount Waverley ward

Brian Little (re-elected)
Rebecca Paterson (re-elected)
Mt Pang Tsoi (first-time Councillor)

Mulgrave ward

Paul Klisaris (re-elected)
Robert Davies (re-elected)
Shane McCluskey (first-time Councillor)

Oakleigh ward

Theo Zographos (re-elected)
Stuart James (re-elected)
Josh Fergeus (first-time Councillor)

Gayle Nicholas who is the founder of Empowering Monash and YOU, sadly was not successful in been elected for the Glen Waverley Ward, but campaigned very well and had a worthwhile experience. Link: Following an unsuccessful bid 4 Monash Council. EM&U will continue to push or support for recording and broadcasting of Monash Council meetings, which Gayle has also strongly advocated for. Click on link provided for further details abut streaming of council meetings and what some Councillors had to say prior to elections. Link: Feedback to Council: Streaming/Recording of Meetings.  

You will have an opportunity to meet the elected Councillors at the:

  • Council Civic Centre (293 Springvale Rd, Glen Waverley), Monday 31 October, at 5pm. The VEC will declare the election results. For the City Of Monash election results, visit the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) website.
  • Special Council meeting (Council Chambers), Thursday 3 November at 6:30pm. Councillors will be sworn in, and a Mayor and Deputy Mayor elected or a date set for the election of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor. 
Community Members are welcome to attend! 

For more info click on link provided: City of Monash Council 

The End of an Era – Council Elections are upon us.

Postal ballot packs were mailed out last week (October 4, 5 and 6).  Votes must be returned (in the mail) by 6pm on Friday, October 21.  Votes will be counted (per latest advice) on Saturday, 29 and the results are due to be announced on the 31st.

Because of the election schedule, the regular monthly meeting, will be held at the Monash Civic Centre (293 Springvale Road, Glen Waverley) on Wednesday 19 October, from 7pm. This meeting is being held earlier in the month due to the Council elections in late October.

The meeting’s agenda (and associated reports) will be available from 5pm on Friday 14 October at Agendas and Minutes.   Questions for public question time must be submitted by midday on Tuesday, 18 October.

See the Council website for the full story.

Public Question Time Apparently is NOT Public Answer Time!

Why is it that a simple question at council does not get a simple, direct answer?

Over the past three years I have regularly attended Monash Council meetings and often asked questions in public question time. Council gives a “written response”.  The name “response” is apt because the “response” rarely is an “answer” to the question that is asked.

By way of example: on September 27, an amendment to Council’s Financial Hardship Policy was proposed and, while well intentioned, it offers benefits to one group of struggling ratepayers while denying the same to others in equally straitened circumstances.  I asked why this was.  The response was a long-winded, contradictory evasion. Judge for yourself.

The Proposed Policy Amendment

financialhardship

Extract from Monash Council Agenda – September 27, 2016

My Question To Council Tonight

Compassion for ratepayers suffering financial hardship is commendable; no question.

Imagine:

  • I have lived in Monash for 30 years.
  • 18 months ago I downsized near to Boyanna Rd.
  • 12 months ago (remember, we’re imagining), aged 57, too ill to work I invoked my income protection insurance (reduced income, no pension, huge medical bills).
  • 3 months ago revaluation doubled my CIV and increased my rates by 40%.
  • I qualify under council’s hardship provisions for interest rate relief on deferred rates (part 1 of the amendment).

Next door is an older, struggling pensioner who moved into Monash for the first time eleven years ago who qualifies for zero interest (part 2 of the amendment).

What is the difference in NEED between these two hypothetical ratepayers that warrants preferential treatment of one over the other?

Comments

The question is not critical of the idea that relief should be offered – in fact it applauds the concept.  The question points out the inequities based on the assumption that two ratepayers are both suffering extreme financial hardship yet they are treated differently:

  • I have no pension yet, hypothetically, I have no more disposable cash than the pensioner next door
  • I am not receiving any government assistance because I am funding myself through my own income protection insurance yet I am eligible for less public assistance than my neighbour
  • I have lived in Monash, paying rates, for 19 years more than the pensioner yet, having moved house recently, I am penalised in comparison
  • I am too ill to work yet, being younger, may well have more years ahead of me in which to accumulate a compounding burden of interest on my deferred rates jeopardising far more of the equity in my home

Council’s Response

Councillor Lake’s response on behalf of council (he has couched it in the first  person so I believe it fair to attribute it personally to him) follows below with embedded comments.

Thank you for your question.  At the outset, assuming both have applied for deferred payments under the proposed amendment, they would both be better off than under the current policy. My proposal, as set out in Item 7.2, is seeking Council approval to reduce the interest rate charged for the deferral of Council rates for persons qualifying under our Financial Hardship Policy. This represents a reduction from the current 4.75% to 2.5% per annum.  The current 4.75% rate which applies is already lower than the proscribed statutory rate of 9.5% and follows the development of Council’s current hardship policy which I instigated around two years ago.  So an interest rate of 2.5% on deferred rates would be the outcome for your hypothetical non-pensioner in the example you have proposed.  That is an interest rate substantially lower than anything else commercially available at the moment.

My question asked about the unequal treatment of two struggling ratepayers.  The fact that both get a reduced rate was never in question and the fact that both are better off than under the current policy does not address the inequity.

Commercial interest rates are irrelevant – governments are not commercial entities.  And the fact remains that, in these straitened circumstances, any interest rate compounds the debt accumulating against my property.  The question is not about whether or not a rates debt ultimately needs to be paid regardless of personal circumstances, it asked about the different treatment of two disadvantaged people.

In the proposed Notice of Motion I am also seeking  councillor support to reduce the interest rate charged on deferred rates for eligible aged pensioners to 0% where a person is over the age of 65 and can prove they have lived in their home for more than 10 years.

The latter approach recognises a person who has passed the current age in Australia when someone becomes eligible to apply for the Age Pension. This approach is proposed by me to offer residents of pensionable age an ability to live completely free of any concern around the payment of their Council rates.  This is in response to the dozens of pensioners I have spoken to over the past month, and the hundreds who have responded to Council’s petition to the state government, who have told me about the significant impact on their life arising from the significant rate increase they have received because of property values increasing substantially.

Being older doesn’t mean the financial hardship is greater.  Being an aged-pensioner (but not a disability or other pensioner) does not mean you’re, automatically, harder up.  Financial Hardship is a question of your ability to pay your rates bill without being put in a situation where you cannot pay for the necessities of life and neither age nor pension status change that.

The requirement to prove that a person has lived in their home for at least 10 years is also unfair.  In the example I cited, I was well and truly qualified on this count until I downsized.  After living in my own home for 28.5 years I downsized and, 18 months later, in serious financial hardship, I’m told I don’t qualify for help because I haven’t lived there for long enough.

Still the inequities, the subject of the question, is not addressed.

If my changes are supported tonight, aged pensioners with more than 10 years living and contributing to our community, can choose not to pay another dollar in rates and be completely confident that over time interest will not reduce the equity they have paid off in their home.  Their rates will simply sit as a charge against their property to be recouped by Council when the property is sold.  This in an option which will not be for everyone but it does offer immediate financial relief to anyone who is otherwise feeling they have no other choice but to leave the local area they have lived in for most of their life.

And there is the contradiction.

The hypothetical me in the example has lived and contributed to our community for nearly three times as long as the hypothetical pensioner but it’s the pensioner who gets the benefit described in this paragraph and the long term resident who misses out.  It’s the long term resident who, contrary to the comment above, may “have no other choice but to leave the local area they have lived in for most of their life”.

But what is even worse here is the underlying implication that compassion must first be earned – “…aged pensioners with more than 10 years living and contributing to our community…” are worthy or more care and compassion than others!

When it comes to council rates, age pensioner ratepayers are the most vulnerable section of our community because they are living off very low fixed incomes with little prospect of increasing their income in real terms in the future.  The proposed amendments will provide some immediate relief to some of those most in need.  This is in addition to our strong advocacy around these mattes to the state government and my proposal tonight represents assertive action we can take ourselves right now.

Pensioners are vulnerable.  Invalids are vulnerable.  The chronically ill, unemployed and many others are vulnerable.  They all live of very low fixed incomes.

It is true that the hypothetical me may recover and resume working and earning in which case I’d have to start to repay my deferred rates.  But I may have already been forced to sell up to escape an increasing and insurmountable interest burden despite having lived and contributed to the local community for most of my life.

So, I return the the question which was not answered:

What is the difference in NEED between these two hypothetical ratepayers that warrants preferential treatment of one over the other?

Why Can’t Citizens Get Answers?

When you consider the above example the only answer I can see is that there is no legitimate reason for the different treatment.  If it’s fair to charge one person 2.5% interest on deferred rates when they’re in financial hardship then it’s fair to charge everyone 2.5%.  If it’s fair to grant a 0% interest rate to one person then it’s fair to grant it to everyone.

And if that’s true then the answer to the question asked is very short and direct, “There is no difference in their needs, I will amend my proposal to recognise the unintended inequities”.

Time for a Change to Question Time

The final insult to the community in the above example is that my question was required to be kept to no more than 100 words (I got away with a few extra this time) but Council responses face no such restraint.  Cr Lake’s response used six paragraphs, about 500 words, to NOT answer the question.

 

Monash Council Election in October – What you need to know!

Monash Council Election

The City of Monash Council Election will be held in October. It will be by postal vote and enrolled voters will receive their ballots via the mail in the first week of October.

What is in the ballot pack?

Council Elections Ballots
State of Victoria (Victorian Electoral Commission) – Easy English Guide
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Derivatives 4.0 licence
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/)

How to complete the ballot paper or vote?

After completing the sheet or adding your vote, then you will need to return it in the mail by 6.00 pm on Friday 21 October 2016, so please be aware it needs to be mailed by this date as voting closes on 21 October 2016. However you do have the option to hand-deliver it to the election office by this date. You can visit the Victorian Electoral Commission website for more information.

Click on Factsheets to enlarge and view! 

Council Election Ballots
State of Victoria (Victorian Electoral Commission) – Easy English Guide
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Derivatives 4.0 licence
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/)
Council Election Ballot
State of Victoria (Victorian Electoral Commission) – Easy English Guide
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Derivatives 4.0 licence
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monash Council Election Candidates and voting

You will find candidate statements in the ballot pack, which is a little information about each candidate before deciding who to vote for. Community members may be already aware who some of the candidates are, but it is very important to vote for a person who you think will do the best for you or the community.  Hence why it is important to get enough information about the candidates by visiting their websites, reading their flyers or contacting them and asking questions. The other option is to  make arrangements to meet them at a convenient time or at their launches and express your views or concerns.

You vote is important so vote wisely!
Monash Council Ballot Voting
State of Victoria (Victorian Electoral Commission) – Easy English Guide
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Derivatives 4.0 licence
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/)

If you interested in meeting some of them, there will be a ‘Meet the Candidates’ event on 6 October 2016 at the Mount Street Neighbourhood House. For further details, you can contact them by phone on 9803 8706 or through their website – MSNH Contact.

For more information regarding the Council Elections:

City of Monash Council Election – Voting 

Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC)

Easy English Guide – Victorian Electoral Commission Vote in Local Council Postal Elections

Reminder! Gayle Nicholas who is the founder member of Empowering Monash and YOU has suspended her role with EM&U while standing for Council.  Community members have contacted EM&U in regards to Gayle’s Campaign and would like to remind people that EM&U’s role does not involve election campaigns, so if you would like to contact Gayle Nicholas, details below.
Website: Glenwaverleyward.wordpress.com.au
Facebook Page Page: @Gayle4Monash 
Twitter: @GayleNicholas4M

Monash Council Meeting Agenda! Hot Issues – What to look for?

Monash Council Meeting

The Next City of  Monash Council Meeting will be held on Tuesday 30 August 2016 from 7.00pm. You will need to submit your questions by noon  today (Monday 29 August).

Hot issues to pay extra attention too!

Hot issues Empowering Monash and You

Development: Five residential apartment towers 6-10 storeys in height and 17 double-storey townhouses

79 objections were submitted by public members: “Key issues raised within objections relate to neighbourhood character, visual bulk, overshadowing, design detail, compliance with residential policy, car parking provision, increased traffic, overlooking and residential amenity.” Source – Monash Council Agenda, 30 August 2016.

The Council has recommended to refuse the proposal!

Monash Community Grants Program:  Report relating to the 2017/18  Grants Program (MCGP) and assessments of applications.

Due to the Public Health Approach to Gambling Policy Statement, funding will not be provided to applicants or community groups who meet at venues that have Electronic Gaming Machines. Already two organisations will be affected! There were some objections to this alteration .  

Links relating to this issue and comments: Dealing Monash Ratepayers a Dodgy Hand

Important Update! Some Councillors not signing code of conduct spared due to stuff ups!

Some Councils stuffed up!

Recently there was an issue with a Monash Councillor (Theo Zographos – Councillor in firing line for not signing code of conduct) for not signing the code of conduct in front of the CEO, but now the Government stated there might have been some stuff ups! 

“Councillors who failed to properly sign a new code of conduct have been spared disqualification and will be able to comply by February. Acting Local Government Minister Richard Wynne said there had been a failure of administrative duties by councils and incompetence in some cases.” Source: The Age

The local Government Minister Richard Wynne mentioned that he received letters from council’s admitting they had made a mistake.

Apparently due to the errors, 107 councillors from 13 different councils faced suspension!

Articles to more info in relation to this debacle!

The Age – ‘They stuffed up’: sacked councils to get last-minute

The Age Victoria – More than 100 Victorian councillors face disqualification

ABC News – Local councils ‘failed to comply’ with code of conduct law changes, Victorian Government says

What do members of the community think of this debacle?

Have you heard? Monash Council meetings just like a school class?

Monash Council Meetings Class Rules

Monash Council has introduced measures to improve the functioning of Council meetings. However many believe that Council meetings are now more like a school classroom. “If people behave like children and act in an unprofessional way, they can expect to be treated like children.  I make no apologies for that.  I was elected Mayor a few weeks ago to fix our dysfunctional meetings and I am determined to do that” stated Mayor Geoff Lake – Hands on heads improves Monash Council meeting.

Councillors are now required to place two hands on their head if they wish to raise a point of order. I wonder what will be next? A time-out corner?

Monash Council Meetings Naughty Corner

Now Mayor Geoff Lake wants an audit of councillor attendances at Council meetings. “This is because I have become alarmed at the attendance record of some councillors and, in particular, the approach that some councillors are taking in either providing no prior apology when they are absent from a Council meeting or providing unreasonable or insufficient notice of a planned extended absence” said Mayor Geoff Lake – Statement from Mayor Geoff Lake.

Even Monash Ratepayers believe that Monash Council is the School from Hell!  Monash Ratepayers Inc Article Snippet:

Monash Council: The School from Hell

Serial BullyingThe ridiculing and gagging standing order for controlling council meetings is not enough for Mayor Lake. He now wants roll calling to be his new black in councillors’ conduct management. Tracking councillors’ attendance is his next level up in bastardising the LG Act’s code of conduct guidelines, of course conveniently through exercising his Mayoralty position. Source:  https://monashratepayers.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/monash-council-the-school-from-hell/

I wonder what else will be added to meetings? Perhaps we should provide some suggestions. Here are some!

  • Line up quietly to be marched into meeting room by Mayor Geoff Lake
  • Councillors who do not come to meetings prepared will have detention! 
  • Three strikes – Clean up duty!

Councillors Line Up

Instead of Monash Council spending $10,000 to monitor meetings, funds should be used to implement recording of meetings, to give more people access to meetings. It will also ensure a more transparent Council. Recording/Streaming Council Meetings Benefits Disabled Constituents.

What do community members think of these changes? Leave your comments by clicking on the Leave a Comment button above.

Have you seen these articles and comments? 

Monash councillors forced to put hands on head when they wish to speak during meetings

Monash Council Mayor Geoff Lake wants to track councillor attendance at meetings with an audit

3AW Breakfast interview – Monash Councillors have to place their hands on their head if they want to speak at council meetings

New website! Know Your Council!

The website was developed by Local Government Victoria (LGV) for community to have access to information on how local councils are performing and updates relating to local government.

It is important that there is transparency of councils. This website can ensure community have access to information and in a method that is easy to understand.

Do you want to know how Monash Council performed? Please visit the Know Your Council website!

Visit site – Know Your Council