Douglas Shire Council / Open Sesame! Public access to meetings not imminent

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Questions have been rolling in as to when the public gallery will be re-opened for Council meetings. We take a look at the legislation and break it down here.

For members of the public keen to sit in on Council meetings, COVID-19 has thrown a spanner in the works. However, social distancing and meeting restrictions have created innovative ways to get the
public involved, with many Councils, including the Douglas Shire, taking on the challenge of working with technology to keep residents engaged.

On 26 March 2020, the Queensland Governor in Council approved the Local Government Electoral (2020 Quadrennial Election) Regulation 2020. The Regulation introduced a range of measures designed to minimise the health risks of COVID-19 to Council candidates, voters, Councillors, and the
community, both during and after the 27 March 2020 Local Government elections.

Temporary changes made to the Local Government Regulation 2020 have ensured the public maintain access to Council meetings.

The modifications permitted the implementation of two specific processes. Councillors, Council staff and other participants may participate in meetings by phone or teleconference provided the meeting is in real-time and interactive, permitting discussions as they happen.

Where possible, Councils were to use streaming or other facilities ensuring the public could observe or hear the meeting, either from one of the Council’s public offices or via the Council’s website.

The introduction of these measures has ensured the community remain informed of Council decisions, which is consistent with the requirement for Council meetings to be open to the public.(1)

CEO Mark Stoermer has advised DNN when Stage 3 of the Queensland Government’s Roadmap to easing Queensland’s restrictions, due to commence on 10 July 2020 take effect, the Council meeting room will be large enough to accommodate up to 20 people in total while adhering to the continued public health rule requiring maintaining four square metres per person when indoors. (2)

Council meetings currently attract five councillors, the CEO and approximately five to six staff, allowing only the addition of roughly eight to ten members of the public from 10 July 2020.

Before the current Council were sworn in, the Douglas Shire Council met every three weeks.

At the first meeting of the new Council on 16 April 2020, a motion was passed changing the Ordinary Council Meeting schedule to the last Tuesday of the month only, therefore reducing Ordinary Council Meetings by an estimated 24%.

CEO Stoermer, when queried by Cr Noli as to the reasoning behind the changes, advised the proposed new schedule was a common practice across local government.

CEO Stoermer went on to advise he would be “proposing a whole series of additional transparency measures and meetings and things that we’ll be able to do to engage with the public in a workshop on Tuesday.”

CEO Stoermer went on to explain an Ordinary Council Meeting held “once a month is a predictable schedule … (and) is very helpful for the members of the public and for staff.” (3)

Mayor Kerr went on to advise the meeting schedule motion was “changeable if things change,” noting meeting dates were required to be set in advance.

Douglas Shire Council currently live streams, via their Facebook page. Although the sound quality experienced some issues early on, enhancements have been made and the quality much improved for the Special Council Meeting held 2 June 2020.

Currently, Cairns Regional Council Ordinary Council Meetings are held on the first and third Wednesday of the month and live-streamed via a dedicated webcast introduced before COVID-19 restrictions in October 2019. Special Council Meetings and Standing Committee Meetings are also live-streamed.

Cook Shire Council Ordinary Council Meetings are held on various dates over the year and live-streamed via YouTube, as are Tablelands Regional Council Ordinary Council Meetings on the fourth Thursday of each month.

Mareeba Shire Council does not currently offer live streaming of their Ordinary Council Meetings held every four or five weeks on a Wednesday.

CEO Stoermer advised Douglas Shire Council would continue to maintain live streaming of Council Meetings even when restrictions lifted, enabling those interested in the content to watch the meeting from home if preferred.


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