BY KRISTEN TSIAMIS
The City of Sydney Council deferred further consideration of webcasting Council meetings, despite the motion passing in March of this year.
Councillors who were not on the Lord Mayor’s team have been frustrated by the notoriously secretive way the City runs council meetings, where complete minutes are not taken.
When the motion passed in March, council resolved that the CEO present a proposal for webcasting in council meetings.In May, plans for a 12 month trial were tabled, and council resolved that “further consideration of this matter be deferred pending the election of a new Council in September 2016 (so as to enable the provision of input and guidance from elected members of the new Council regarding the arrangements for the streaming of Council and Committee meetings.”
As the new Council has now been elected, now is the time to be talking about how to make a more transparent City of Sydney Council.
At the first meeting of the council, held on September 23, webcasting was not on the agenda.
A Council spokesperson told City Hub, “in May, Council resolved to defer further consideration of webcasting until the new Council was elected. As such, a new report is being prepared and will be put to the new Councillors.”
City of Sydney Councillor Angela Vithoulkas told City Hub that the introduction of webcasting of council meetings was “way overdue, I think as part of the platform that I campaign for to be a smart city, the minimum we should require for accountability and transparency for the rate payer, is to enable them to view all council meetings.”
Transparency in Council chambers, as well as bringing Council into the 21st century are part of the reasons that the motion for webcasting Council meetings went through.
Labor Councillor, Linda Scott, said that transparency and public participation in council deliberations were key to a functioning Council.
“I welcome more openness, more transparency and more participation in the deliberations and decision making of the City of Sydney Council and webcasting council meetings will allow this.
“The nuances of a councillor’s position on a certain matter or issue are never accurately reflected in council minutes,” she said.
One of the positive aspects of webcasting is the fact that citizens can peruse the meeting at their leisure, without having to sit through the entire meeting, particularly if the issue they are attending the meeting for isn’t addressed for sometimes, several hours.
“Some people work late or have families to get home to and simply don’t have the time to attend council meetings in person,” Cr Scott said.
Cr Vithoulkas said that the implementation of webcasting will be an important development in the council relationship with the public, as “an accurate record [of council meetings] isn’t kept, it’s only the voting process that is recorded. It’s a shame that their views and questions aren’t heard as well.”
Councillors need to be seen as accessible and approachable, according to Cr Vithoulkas, and one way to do that is allowing “people to see how a council chamber works when there is a majority and one voice is heard. There is little opportunity for others to share their views. People voted for different councillors for different reasons, the rest of the people should still hear and see what is going on, webcasting will make it easier and more accessible. “
“The Lord mayor has dragged her heels over this, it’s certainly an issue that my ex-Liberal colleague and I were in support of. The Lord Mayor had opposed it and previously voted it down.”
Cr Vithoulkas said that if the motion is re-considered in Council, she “would support a live webcast, it’s important because decisions are made instantaneously, so people should be able to see the motion and the votes.”
“I’m not scared of people hearing what I have to say or how I vote. I’d like to see all councillors feel the same way. I’d like to think they do, and supporting what has already been voted on is the ideal way of showing that – unless they have something to hide” she said.
Liberal Councillor Christine Forster in support of the webcasting motion is planning to file a motion in October, bringing the issue of webcasting to the forefront of council discussions.