Key council reports to be made public far earlier

Key council reports to be made public far earlier
David Schout

Locals could be given an extra week to consider important council reports after the City of Melbourne pledged to amend its governance rules.

Community groups and ratepayers currently have less than five days to read and respond to council policy and strategy papers, and many have argued this was insufficient time given the often detail-heavy documents.

However, from next year, important documents regarding suburb-shaping projects or initiatives could land in the hands of locals far earlier.

After “an increasing number of requests for longer notice periods”, City of Melbourne councillors endorsed a proposal to allow an extra week’s notice for significant reports. Currently, the council publicly released documents for a Tuesday evening meeting at 2pm the previous Thursday. An additional seven days would more than double the time available for locals to read and consider the contents of significant reports prior to a decision being taken.

“This has been a while coming, and we’re keen to get the balance here,” Cr Rohan Leppert, who put forward the motion, said at a September 27 council meeting.

The council has previously pledged to release significant and complicated reports early, to allow members of the public time to read and consider their contents. However, it admitted that “this practice was not codified and has been inconsistent”.

Cr Leppert said it was time for a clearer system.

“There’s a school of thought that the best way to manage a notice period for significant reports is to voluntarily apply a practice or a convention that we choose the reports in advance and make sure there’s extra notice,” he said.

“But we have seen that members of the community would like to see, quite clearly and transparently, which reports will be given extra notice and why. So, this proposal does seek to put something in the governance rules that’s never been put there before.”

In a submission to the council, president of CBD residents’ group EastEnders Stan Capp commended the move.

“By recognising that short notice does not align with council’s stated value of openness and transparency, this motion will ameliorate the issues raised and ensure better and more informed inputs from interested parties, including residents.”

Residents 3000 president Rafael Camillo echoed these thoughts.

“We value the rights and fairness of our community, and we support that consultation time of two-and-a-half days should be changed to at least 10 working days. We believe that a lot of people are frustrated and excluded from best local government decision making because of this constraint. It will be a balanced, inclusive and democratic decision if the council goes in favour of this decision.”

Some community members pushed for an extension of notice in terms of “business days” (rather than normal days), however this was seen as unlikely.

The proposal will now be open to public feedback before being considered before the end of this year, with a view to implementing the changes for 2023.

Neighbourhood meetings to continue in 2023

The City of Melbourne has also announced that it will continue hosting one meeting per month away from Melbourne Town Hall in 2023 after a “successful pilot year” of neighbourhood meetings, as Kensington prepares to host councillors on October 18. The council will convene for one of two Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meetings (which oversees the implementation of key council strategies) per month at venues across the municipality in a bid to bolster democratic involvement. The second FMC meeting of each month will be held in 10 different community locations, including, Carlton, West Melbourne, Parkville, Docklands, South Yarra, North Melbourne, East Melbourne, Fishermans Bend, Kensington and Southbank.

“Community is at the heart of everything we do. Local meetings make it so much easier for our residents and businesses to get involved with Council and connect with those representing their unique neighbourhood,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.

“We are proud of our democratic processes at the City of Melbourne, and after a hugely successful pilot year of neighbourhood FMC meetings we’re looking forward to continuing these important conversations outside Town Hall.”

The first FMC meeting per month, plus a standard council meeting held on the last Tuesday of the month, will remain at the 1870-built Town Hall on Swanston St.

Neighbourhood locations have been determined based on availability of a suitable venue, with a later start time of 6pm to enable greater attendance.

Kensington will host the next FMC meeting at Kensington Town Hall (30-34 Bellair St) on October 18 at 6pm. •

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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