Perhaps ‘open forum’ not an appropriate title

Nangus Water Committee member Lyn Smart fronted the local council at last week’s meeting to question how residents and ratepayers can get their concerns heard after her request to speak on a particular issue at the meeting’s open forum was denied.

On the Friday before the meeting Mrs Smart submitted a speaker registration form to the council to speak at the Tuesday night’s meeting. On the Monday afternoon she received a phone call informing her that her request to speak had been refused because the topic did not relate to the set agenda for the meeting.

Mrs Smart said while she can accept the reason for refusal, she noted that there is a point in the Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council (CGRC) Code of Meeting Practice that states the general manager must give reasons in writing for a decision to refuse an application. 

“I pose the question – why are some topics not related to the meeting’s agenda permitted to go ahead while others are not?” Mrs Smart said. 

“The few meetings I’ve attended I’ve listened to talks on lack of working streetlights, lack of toilet paper in public toilets, a development application dispute and proposed plans for the Dog on the Tuckerbox precinct, and I’m yet to be convinced that any of those topics would have been on the agenda for that relevant council meeting.

“It also begs the question, if the citizen/ratepayer has a concerning general issue, when will they get to raise the issue with council? Because chances are that issue will have nothing to do with the given agenda. 

“Perhaps ‘open forum’ may not be an appropriate title?”

Mrs Smart went on to say that during her phone conversation on the Monday afternoon, she was assured that the August meeting would be a good opportunity to speak at the open forum because her topic would be related to an agenda item. 

“I can accept this, but my question is – if I submit a speaker registration form for the August meeting, will it be accepted and if not, what avenues are available to citizens and ratepayers that have concerns with council, in order to have some pressing questions answered? Is an open forum the only opportunity?”

Interim general manager Les McMahon said his experience with public forums at another council differs from the format at CGRC.

“We had a community forum one week before the council meeting. That community forum allowed for open discussion on any issue; one, it could be on the (business) paper, the other could be on any issue. It was either answered or correspondence sent back to the person,” Mr McMahon said. 

“That was my previous council, this one is a little bit different so it’s something that I think the councillors might have to address.”

In the CGRC Code of Meeting Practice, under Part 3.8, the code states: ‘Members of the public are invited to address Council on any local government issue’.

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