Tag Archives: Herald Sun

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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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

Hands off our reserve! Another Council not interested in green open space?

Have you seen this article? Another Council not interested in green open space?

Glendale Reserve, SpringvaleGreater Dandenong Council plans to sell part of Springvale’s Glendale Reserve to Minaret College   GEORDIE COWAN SPRINGVALE DANDENONG LEADER JUNE 01, 2015 12:15PM  
via Greater Dandenong Council plans to sell part of Springvale’s Glendale Reserve to Minaret College | Herald Sun.

The City of Greater Dandenong Council is proposing to sell part of Glendale Reserve located at Whitworth Avenue, which is very much-loved and highly used by community members. The land is occupied by the existing kindergarten and scout hall (used by the Scout Association). 

http://www.greaterdandenong.com/news/1827/proposed-sale-of-part-of-glendale-reserve

The Council proposes to sell the land to property owners, Minaret College (Islamic School) to be used. If Council goes ahead with the sale the land will need to be rezoned and the reserve status removed.

 

Submissions on the proposal from the community were accepted by the council and they had the opportunity to express their views at a consultation meeting, with majority of attendees against the sale.

 

Residents and community members protest that the Glendale Reserve is one of the only green spaces around that area. Buildings on the land can be demolished and will be more open space. This will cater to future generations, young and old. There is a high rate of couples with children in Springvale and the need for open space for children to play and be outdoors. Many children may spend more time on the internet or watching TV due to a lack of open space and a lack of exercise is detrimental to their physical health.

 

Other communities are fighting for more open space as important for the wellbeing of the community.

https://monashandyou.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/green-waverley-research-supports-a-green-space-for-diverse-uses/

Low levels of exercise and obesity is a concern as well as chronic disease. The Greater Dandenong Council CWP Priorities and Objectives 2013-17 states that for recreation, facilities and programs are provided which will help increase participation in sport, leisure and the arts. More participation in physical activity results from providing adequate, good quality parks and open spaces. http://www.greaterdandenong.com/document/25455/community-wellbeing-plan-2010-13

 

Minaret college who is leasing the kindergarten has planned to expand the building if purchase the land. However the council report summary of the proposed sale states that the traffic within Whitworth Avenue can become very congested at the peak school times. By Minaret continuing to expand on this location and increasing the size of the kindergarten, this will only add to an existing concern.                                                       http://www.greaterdandenong.com/document/27619/council-minutes-27-january-2015

 

The Council did mention that if sold, funds could be used to purchase more open space in Springvale North. However in the past another reserve Erickson Gardens was sold to build a new Police Station and had the opportunity to use funds to increase open space, it has not done so. In fact their open strategy report revealed that it is lacking in open space in that area and many other areas in Springvale. http://www.greaterdandenong.com/document/25797/open-space-strategy

 

There needs to be some balance. If allow for this to happen what will stop others doing the same in other areas. The council need to keep this land and consider the consequences if go ahead and sell.

Take a stand now to save the reserve! Attend the Council meeting on 10 August 2015 at 7pm to show your support. Councillors need to know!

Venue: Council Chambers Level 2, 225 Lonsdale Street, Dandenong

 

Glendale Reserve

Want to know more? Click on link provided – Save out spaces plea

Contact Glendale Reserve Campaign Group https://saveglendalereserve.wordpress.com/contact-us/

Save Glendale Reserve Facebook Page

Save Glendale Reserve Facebook Page
Save Glendale Reserve Facebook Page –  click image

SNIPPET FROM MONASH COUNCIL MEETING! IS THIS AN APOLOGY FROM MAYOR GEOFF LAKE?

Did you miss the recent Monash Council   meeting? Response to article? Is this an apology?

snippet from council meeting

There was an article in the Herald sun on 22 April 2014 stating that Monash mayor Geoff Lake provided a “tongue-in-cheek” response to Ratepayers Victoria president Jack Davis after Mr after Mr Davis questioned the legitimacy of local government.  Click on link to article:

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/letters-to-ratepayers-chief-labelled-disgraceful/story-fni0fit3-1226892547786?sv=48dd6678059fdf66fecd567019cd153#.U1dPb0jnpXM.facebook

I read the article and find it quite astounding that Mayor Lake responded to a concerned citizen in this way. This is not the first time that Mayor Lake has behaved inappropriately.

http://www.news.com.au/national/kevin-rudds-star-victorian-recruit-geoff-lakes-abuse-of-wheelchair-bound-woman-revealed/story-fnho52ip-1226694514695

Has the Monash Mayor breached the code of conduct principles? Here are the code of conduct principles. What do you think? 

http://www.monash.vic.gov.au/council/documents/CouncillorsCodeofConductSep2013.pdf

councillors code of conductWould love to hear any comments or feedback from the community. Do you think Monash Council should have disciplined Mayor Geoff Lake for his actions?