Community members wishing to speak to Latrobe City councillors on a broad range of topics at council’s public presentation sessions will now have a greater chance following newly implemented procedures.
During Monday night’s council meeting, councillors also approved several changes to their regular meeting schedule, with ordinary meetings to be held every three weeks instead of two, and beginning 30 minutes later, now at 6pm.
Ordinary council meeting agendas will also be available 10 days before the meeting.
Mayor Sharon Gibson said the introduction of public presentation sessions meant residents were no longer restricted to speaking for just three minutes on an agenda item. She said this new forum would be dedicated to longer dialogue between councillors and residents.
“I’m looking forward to being able to have more time listening to the community and for them to know further in advance and know what’s on the agenda. It’s a positive step forward,” Cr Gibson said.
Council was split by the decision, with four councillors opposing the motion and expressing concerns the changes were made without community consultation.
“If there is an appetite for change in relation to the council meeting structure, it should be explored in greater detail by the community,” Cr Kellie O’Callaghan said.
“I believe that the community may have concerns regarding a reduced frequency of council meetings, but without a detailed and robust community consultation process, this has yet to be tested.”
However, Cr Gibson said the decision was based on community feedback.
“People have said they don’t get much notice… that 5.30pm is too early, three minutes is not enough time to talk – we’ve addressed all these problems in this,” Cr Gibson
“What we’ve done is put something in place for people to trial and then they can see whether they like it or not. It’s a bit hard to say whether you like it before you try it.”
The new start time will be trialled for six months, the meeting cycle will be reviewed and a report presented to council in November.
A Latrobe City spokesperson said council would announce the details of the PP sessions when it had determined them. Council’s next ordinary meeting on 28 April will be followed by the first PP session on 12 May.
‘Positive’ changes welcomed
Vocal community member Linda Reid applauded Latrobe City Council’s recent changes to meeting scheduling and start times.
The Latrobe Valley Hockey Association president, who used to regularly attend meetings, could no longer do so when council moved the start time from 7pm to 5.30pm in December 2012.
“I just stopped going because I have to work,” Ms Reid said.
“I think that’s a positive move and it’s listening to the people.”
She also applauded council’s new public presentations because she often wanted to speak to councillors about matters that were not relevant to an upcoming agenda item and could not do so.
“I think it’s good – the more people that present their views, the better Latrobe City is for it,” Ms Reid said.
While she agreed releasing the agenda 10 days before the meeting was a positive step, the noon deadline on public presentation day for questions or requests to speak should be removed.
“Things may happen during the day and you may decide in the afternoon that you need to speak or ask a question,” Ms Reid said.
“That deadline is not allowing for democracy in its truest sense.”