“Either council is accountable and transparent or it’s not”

“Either council is accountable and transparent or it’s not”

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SJ Shire council, minus Cr Courtney Mazzini. Cr Byas, on the right.

Councillor Morgan Byas has won the battle for increasing transparency in council business. But he hasn’t yet won the war.

In December the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale council voted against a motion to open up its policy concept forums (PCFs), workshops and Q&A sessions to the public.

The motion proposed by Cr Byas sought to allow for more public scrutiny of the “business of council”, and foster a greater sense of community involvement.

But those opposing the motion spoke of a need for ‘balance’ between “protecting confidentiality and being transparent”, and said a closed door policy inspired a more ‘frank’ and ‘candid’ discussion.

Despite the rebuff in December, Cr Byas was adamant that it was “not the end” of the debate on this issue.

“The rejection of this motion does not diminish the importance of our cause, nor does it deter my resolve to advocate for the interests of our ratepayers. There can be no half-measures here. Either council is accountable and transparent, or it’s not,” he said.

Cr Byas brought a compromise to Monday’s council meeting. In his revised motion, he proposed to solely open up Q&A sessions to the general public to view, and to give the president power to approve presentations from ‘external parties’ in these sessions.

The audio would also be made available online for interested listeners.

Shire officers noted that larger local governments often opened up their Q&A sessions to the public.

But also cautioned that doing so could inhibit councillors from asking questions they might be more comfortable in asking “behind closed doors”, and therefore prevent them from gaining a proper understanding of the issue at hand.

Instead, officers suggested opening up Q&As for public audience for a three-month trial period beginning in May, with a review to follow to determine the trial’s success or otherwise.

But they advised against providing a platform for the public to present at these Q&A sessions because of time constraints between the agenda being published and the meeting itself.

At Monday’s meeting, Cr Byas moved the officers’ alternate recommendation.

There was a brief back-and-forth where the specifics of the trial review were ironed out.

But there was unanimous support for the three-month trial from councillors.

Whether Cr Byas’ bid for increased transparency in council matters bears fruit in the long run will be seen once the trial concludes in July.