During the past year, as I have watched Camden Council meetings, it has become apparent that the release of business papers late on Friday before Council meetings is a troubling issue for many.
On numerous occasions, residents making public addresses have expressed their dismay that they have had little time to prepare for submissions to the Council because they have only found out about items of business late on the Friday or over the weekend.
This late release of papers gives residents little time to understand issues, prepare public addresses, and talk to councillors and Council officers to get clarity on certain submissions.
What makes this particularly odd is that is it has been mentioned in meetings during debates and in conversations with councillors after meetings that business papers are prepared two weeks in advance.
Compounding the problem is that if you want to make a public address, the request needs to be sent to the Council no later than 5pm on the Monday before the meeting.
A number of councillors have told me separately in general conversation that they usually receive business papers late on a Friday. This means that if they have questions, like local residents, they have just two working days to sit down with Council officers to get further details or explanations. Considering that the majority of our councillors are in full-time work, this can be quite an issue.
In addition, many of the development applications that go before the Council are complex (a significant number are for full residential subdivisions) and require hours of reading time. Trust me on this, I know, I have tried to read through and interpret many of them myself in the limited time provided.
What prompted me to write about this is a comment by the Mayor, Cr Lara Symkowiak, in the July 11 meeting (remember, I'm still playing catch-up with these meeting reports - July 11, coming soon). During that meeting she noted that a nine-point alternate recommendation to decline an application for a concrete batching plant presented by Cr Cindy Cagney was originally circulated to councillors on the Friday — the same day as business papers are made public. She said at the time that this was not sufficient time to examine the alternate proposal properly.
This is of particular note because one of the things that has struck me very favourably about Cr Symkowiak is that she is one of the best prepared councillors I have ever seen in any council meetings.
So, here we have one of the best prepared councillors I have ever seen stating there is insufficient time to deal with a nine point recommendation brought before the Council on a Friday. Yet at the same time, much more detailed business papers with complex attachments, reports and recommendations are only circulated to residents and fellow councillors on that exact same day - usually in the afternoon.
This means the level of investigation that can be done by residents or on behalf of residents by councillors is limited leaving little time for Camden residents and councillors to review and understand the business papers put before them. It means that there is a potential risk that significant changes in the detail of these reports or development applications could slip through unnoticed, which has potential ramifications for residents, developers, councillors and for the perception of transparency of our local governance.
For this reason I am calling for Camden Council business papers to be released at least as early as the Wednesday before meetings, so both residents and councillors have a fair opportunity to get across the issues. Tell us what you think in the poll above or in the comments below.