Residents and the Greens have labelled a motion to improve community engagement as “disrespectful” to precinct committees.
While ways to best employ social media technologies were unanimously approved by Leichhardt Council, the motion pertaining to the improvement of precinct meetings was voted against by the Greens’ councillors and Liberal Vera-Ann Hannaford.
Annandale resident Gretchen Gamble said the report is out of touch with precincts. “The report makes it sound like we are as a precinct on the outer because we don’t have the right way of engaging with residents. The overall tone of the report is very disrespectful to precincts,” she said.
“All Annandale councillors and the mayor have said they support the precinct system, but this downgrading and sidelining does not bear that out,” said Annandale Precinct Secretary Ian Cranwell.
“If Council doesn’t want to have precincts it should have the spine to close them rather than this subterfuge of a death of a thousand cuts. The councillors who voted for it should come clean about their problems with precincts.”
Greens Councillor Rochelle Porteous said forcing precinct executives to become signatories to Council’s Code of Conduct strips away the autonomy of a precinct committee – an integral purpose of the organisation.
“The actual precincts themselves are independent of Council. A councillor cannot go in and tell a precinct how to run their meetings. They also cannot therefore require that the precinct committee executives become signatories to the Council’s Code of Conduct that informs them that they are not independent of Council,” she said.
“There is a sense of a lack of respect for the voluntary nature of the executive and the way that precincts actually work.”
Mayor Darcy Byrne rejected claims the report discredits precinct committees.
“We have almost 60,000 people living in the Leichhardt Municipality and 99 per cent of them never have any interaction with Council. As mayor, I am trying to take responsibility for improving our engagement with the community, so that tens of thousands of people who never have anything to do with Council are given some opportunity to be engaged in consultation and decision-making,” he said.
Prior to passing the motion, Labor Councillor Simon Emsley stood up and said during his address that “an independent newspaper lied and said that I was against precinct meetings when in fact I support them”. He was referring to an article published by the Inner West Independent in November last year.
Mr Emsley was quoted in the article as saying “I have some concerns about precinct meetings and their value”. In an interview following the meeting, Mr Emsley disputed the notion that he used the word “lied”.
Council released a report on ways to improve social media and customer services for residents in the municipality.