It looks like the live-streaming of Council meetings will be decided in the future by the Liberal vote after Cr Rob Mills made it very clear both during the meeting and afterwards that he was opposed to the idea. For him, it was about how live-streaming meetings could lead to bullying on social media, something he feels he has experienced since being elected.
He also seemed to be annoyed that the Notice of Motion had been introduced without warning by Cr Paul Farrow.
Regardless of Cr Mills position, I came away from the meeting feeling that the Liberal councillors, despite repeatedly saying they agreed with the idea in principle, were in fact searching for a reason to decline the proposal.
I hope this is not the case and that I have misread their comments but that was certainly the impression I had when I left the meeting. Now, let's get down to the detail.
There was only one public address and that was by me regarding ORD05 — the streaming of council meetings. You can read my full address here. It highlights the fact that there is no legal impediment under multiple acts preventing Council meetings from being streamed.
ORD01: Proposed changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.
This was a relatively straightforward discussion but raised some interesting points around the State Government’s proposed changes that could have an impact on the Council's finances and public infrastructure.
Cr Paul Farrow opened the discussion with a question around the wording of the conclusions reached by Council officers. He noted that the report by Council officers and the conclusion on the business papers before the council differed. He felt the recommendations were good but it should be expressly stated that there were some concerns by Council that needed further consideration.
The councillors agreed with this and changed the first paragraph of the conclusion.
The Mayor, Cr Lara Symkowiak, spoke in favour of the submission by Council officers and said that her main concern around the proposed changes was the $30,000 cap on funding for developer contributions to public infrastructure remained. While this may be suitable for areas that were already built up she said that in greenfield areas like Camden this left a significant funding gap. She said the State government would need to compensate the council for that gap or, as recommended by the Council officers, the cap should be removed.
In making this statement she pointed out the State government's definition of essential infrastructure and non-essential infrastructure. Under the proposal essential infrastructure is classified as the land on which infrastructure would be built. However the actual construction of any buildings was regarded as non-essential infrastructure, hence the funding for construction would have to be found by the council.
As she rightly pointed out, it would be impossible for the council to fund this entirely themselves if there was a $30,000 cap placed on infrastructure development. She said, "this needs to be addressed or will become an urgent and pressing issue for Camden Council".
The recommendations by the Council officers were passed unanimously.
ORD02: Camden Companion Animals Advisory Committee — nominated representatives.
Cr Peter Sidgreaves supported the recommendation for all those nominated and was pleased to see they were now three residents on this committee.
Cr Ashleigh Cagney said that for the record she was delighted to see a large influx of volunteers who nominated to hold the position within the committee. She said it was fantastic to see such engagement by residents.
Cr Lara Symkowiak was also supportive of the nominations and said it had been a pleasure to be on the committees since 2012, when it started. She thanked the local veterinarians who gave up a couple of hours every quarter to be a part of the committee and said their expertise was invaluable. She also thanked those residents who were proactive and helped the committee's work through outreach activities. She noted how the committee also served an educational purpose and encouraged a new generation of residents through the schools to take a positive and active approach to animal practices, preventing neglect and abuse, and maintaining a good level of desexing.
The nominations for this committee were passed unanimously.
ORD03: Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) funding for pedestrian infrastructure safety around schools program and the Catherine Fields road upgrade.
Cr Paul Farrow said it was fantastic that the Council got some funding for schools in our area but he was a little disappointed that there were two unsuccessful applications. He said he would like to see the Council continue pressing for those issues.
Cr Michael Morrison had an administrative question. He noted that the business paper stated the funding was successful for 2016/17 but the main report said 2017/18. A council officer clarified that this was for the period 2017/18. Cr Morrison then went on to say that he thought it was fantastic that the RMS was giving funding to help make schools safer.
Cr Eva Campbell said she was grateful for any assistance in upgrading facilities. However, she did have concerns regarding Camden South Public School. Under the funding a crossing across the Old Hume Highway had been funded. However, a crossing at the rear of the school was not approved.
She noted that most students and parents are now accessing the school through the rear gates and there are a number of traffic issues that demand Council attention. She said she would like to raise a red warning flag to try and progress a crossing here and that possibly this situation should be referred to the traffic committee where some work could be done by the council in terms of signs and road markings.
A council officer said that they would try to enhance the rear crossing at Camden South Public School and that the committee would take Cr Campbell’s concerns on board.
Cr Cindy Cagney asked if there was any reason that the rear crossings didn't meet the criteria for RMS funding.
The council officer replied that the RMS had only a certain amount of money and the likelihood of having two crossings accepted at one school was very small.
Cr Cagney then clarified the location of the new crossing at Elyard St, Narellan.
The support for the funding was passed unanimously.
ORD04: Tender for median works between Elizabeth and Edward Streets, Camden. (This will include landscaping that will include eight mature jacaranda trees on this part of the street).
Cr Sidgreaves fully supported the recommendation saying it not only widened the median strip but also beautified it, which he hoped might activate businesses in that area.
Surprisingly, Cr Eva Campbell opposed the motion even though she said she "thoroughly approved of jacarandas". She said she would vote against it because part of the works were being undertaken in a conservation zone and that there was no overall plan for this area. "Works in this area need to be planned — rather than a little piece here and a little piece there — as potentially lots could be lost in between."
Cr Symkowiak fully supported the change saying it was important to activate as much of Argyle Street as possible. She said the works that were proposed were of a fairly significant length and as the first median strip that you come to as you enter Camden it made sense to beautify it with mature jacarandas.
She said the Council was limited in how it could beautify this part of the street due to the significant amount of private ownership, in particular the old milk depot and garage.
She said she disagreed with Cr Campbell's comments saying plans for the full length of the street had been mapped out but because of the cost it was impossible to do it all at once. She said it was always going to be a staged development. Cr Symkowiak said the landscaping of the median strip would significantly complement the other work in Argyle Street. "We can only change what we own. It will look fantastic when it is complete and we will see a positive improvement."
Cr Sidgreaves said the mayor took the words out of his mouth. “Are we trying to protect a concrete median strip?” he asked. He believed that by beautifying that section of the street it would get shoppers down to that area and activate all of Argyle Street. He noted that of course the full plan for Argyle Street was in place but it cost a significant amount of money and so it must be done in stages. He fully supported the proposal.
The motion was carried by a majority. Cr Campbell voted against it.
ORD05: Notice of Motion — Live streaming Council meetings.
Cr Paul Farrow reiterated the points made in the public address. He said the Council's minutes lack the debate and substance of what occurs in the Council. He noted that other councils were already streaming their meetings and that in doing this it showed residents who couldn't see the debate what had happened. Streaming these meetings, he said, would show the thought that goes into a Council decision.
He said that he had envisaged there may be some implementation issues and that time would be needed to get quotes on the types of technology available and to develop policies and procedures — especially with codes of practice.
However before proceeding further he asked if he could amend the wording. This was supported by Cr Cindy Cagney, who seconded the motion.
The new wording read as follows:
- Camden Council bring back a report to Council within four weeks containing quotes on required technology and installation for Council’s further consideration; and
- Camden Council identify the required policies and procedures for the implementation and start drafting such policies and procedures for Councils review and consideration at its earliest convenience.
Cr Eva Campbell spoke in support of the recommendation. She stated that she had always been amazed that the local P&C meetings have more detail in them than Council minutes. She also noted that Council meetings used to be held at 8pm, so people could get back in time. "Giving residents access to council meetings is absolutely critical," she said.
Cr Campbell said that the previous general manager, Mr Ron Moore, publicly stated that the new Council building had been deliberately built with glass so the residents could see into the building and know that the activities that went on there were transparent. "This Notice of Motion is about transparency," she said. "It takes the idea of access to our Council to another level and that is a very good reason to support it."
Up until this point, the Liberal councillors had remained quiet despite two rounds of calls for speakers For and Against the motion. Cr Michael Morrison broke that silence as a voice against the proposal.
He started with a question, asking if live streaming meant video or just audio. He wanted to know if people could actually watch the council meetings. He also stated that the policy and procedures developed for this would have to include how long they stayed on the website and remained accessible to residents.
Cr Morrison said he was generally supportive but he had concerns about how video-streaming would be adopted.
Cr Farrow replied that point two in the new wording aimed to address this issue by asking Council officers to explore what policies would be required. He noted the intention was that after Council officers had come to some conclusions these would be brought back for further consideration.
Cr Cagney said that she was happy with that amendment.
Cr Morrison then went on to say he had concerns about the legal ramifications, "not for us as councillors but for staff". He asked that this be reported on by Council officers as well as he was not sure of the requirements and how everyone would be affected by that.
Cr Farrow said the reason he put in the second point was so that the policies and procedures could be bought back to the council. He said if things needed to be reviewed or changed then point 2 of the motion would pick that up. "I think if a policy or procedure came back that didn't identify the legal ramifications then we would be in exactly the same position as we are now," he said. In short, Cr Farrow expected Council officers would naturally examine the legal aspects when they were identifying the required policies and procedures.
Cr Cindy Cagney spoke in support of live-streaming, saying that Wollondilly had gone through the process and she was certain that a report brought back to Council would allow further consideration of the concept and the cost. “I am happy with a report coming back,” she said.
Cr Symkowiak spoke against the Notice of Motion, although she said she was supportive of live streaming meetings in principle. Her problem, she said, was with the wording. "I would be supportive of an amended recommendation that the Council investigated then bring back all the pros cons and issues, which would allow Council officers to do a full investigation.
Cr Symkowiak said the current Notice of Motion was restrictive. She noted how Cr Morrison had brought up a legal issue. She noted that some councils live stream while others do not and that in some cases, due to a number of issues, some had started and then ceased. "It is worth taking time to address what those issues were," she said.
She noted Wollondilly Council had started live streaming its monthly meetings but to this point there had only been one meeting, so it was a little too early to say whether it had been successful. "I understand the importance of accessibility to these meetings for those who can't make it but I do believe there are a number of other matters that need to be looked at before committing to this," she said. Cr Symkowiak said the recommendation as it was wroded suggested the Council was already going ahead with live streaming but she believed there needed to be an open ended investigation to check all the issues and then bring it back to the council.
Cr Symkowiak repeated that she was in principle supportive of live streaming but it needed to be further investigated. She noted that staff would also need to give their consent to being filmed as there were a number of areas where the council needed to comply with the workplace act.
She said she would vote against what was currently put forward but will be supportive of a more general notice of motion. Cr Symkowiak also noted that the time period for examining the issues should be greater than four weeks.
Cr Ashleigh Cagney said she would support the amended notice of motion, noting that what was proposed was not new. "It has been rolled out across Australia," she said naming multiple states, "and the benefit of live streaming is about more openness and transparency”.
She noted how live streaming would give residents greater access, particularly to those who couldn't make the meeting at 6pm, such as mums and dads, shift workers and those with mobility constraints. "I think the concept of live streaming is something we should be supporting — that it would be a positive step for the Council and a massive win for the community."
Cr Peter Sidgreaves said he agreed with the concept, agreed that transparency was important and to the council meetings being streamed. However, he was particularly concerned with the legalities around staff saying they had to take into consideration everything, including staff well-being and other legalities. He felt the recommendation was too restrictive and supported the idea of a report coming back and a more open-ended resolution.
Cr Paul Farrow then had his right of reply. He thanked Cr Morrison for trying to amend the recommendation. He noted that everyone who had spoken did not have a fundamental problem with the concept. And, he said, that was the key point that needed to be addressed, "Do you have a problem with this or don't you?"
He said that the residents and Council don't want this issue to drag on and on. He felt that most of the considerations raised would have fitted in with point 2. He also indicated that this point was not too restrictive as it said it would bring them back all procedures for review "at its earliest convenience".
Cr Farrow also noted that in the same point that it noted there was going to be more discussion. He was concerned that watering down the notice of motion and coming back with another that there would be no change - the issues the Liberal councillors were concerned about would be exactly the same. "Anyone who has concerns is going to find them put to the council for further debate. I don't see what the problem is."
Following Cr Farrow’s right of reply the motion was lost with the Liberal councillors and Cr Rob Mills voting against it.
The mayor, Cr Lara Symkowiak, then asked if Cr Farrow was prepared to put forward an alternate recommendation. Cr Farrow agreed and then after some to-ing and fro-ing a new Notice of Motion was put to the Council. This Notice of Motion read as follows:
That Council officers investigate live streaming of Council meetings including consideration of positives and negatives and any matters concerning policy, procedure, legal implications and costs and report back to Council for its consideration.
The motion was seconded by Cr Ashleigh Cagney.
Cr Eva Campbell supported the amended Notice of Motion saying, that many years ago there was a Council decision to actually include in the minutes of the Council meetings who voted for and who voted against a motion. At the time, she said, there was all sorts of noise suggesting it was problematic and that legal action might be involved.
Cr Campbell said there was a similarly huge debate when public addresses were first put forward and again there were suggestions that this would lead to legal issues and abuse of staff. "None of that happened and it allowed people to speak to nine councillors collectively in a room."
She said the Council needed to seize the day as this gave them an opportunity to better represent the community from all the different walks of life. It allowed residents to know what was happening, why decisions were being taken by Council and with that knowledge it would give residents an idea of where Camden was going as a community. "This is not only appropriate, it is visionary," she said.
Cr Michael Morrison said he was much more comfortable with the changes. He said he had no problem with video streaming as long as it was legal and the cost factors worked out. "I think it is important the community understands what happens in these meetings," he said.
He said he would like to know what price range they were talking about, $10,000, $20,000 or $100,000 for how many people to watch?
The mayor, Cr Lara Symkowiak, said she didn't believe the amendment watered down the Notice of Motion or put it off. She said it was important to do due diligence and that some councils had taken down live streaming and that needed to be looked into.
There was then silly bit of to-and-fro between Cr Symkowiak and Cr Campbell when the mayor took issue with how Cr Campbell recalled previous events.
After this, Cr Symkowiak noted that she believes the debate that goes on in the Council is very important and that they could look at streaming meetings again when the report returned. She said the new recommendation left it more open for council officers to investigate.
"I don't think it will take a long time to come back and I agree we don't want this to go on and on."
The amended motion was passed by a majority with only Cr Rob Mills voting against it. At the vote, Cr Fedeli turned to Cr Mills and asked him why he voted in opposition. Cr Mills replied, "social media".
In a brief discussion outside after the meeting, Cr Mills said he was concerned that if meetings were streamed he would again become subject to online bullying. Cr Mills believes he has been vilified on social media and that live streaming of meetings could reignite this. He was also disappointed that Cr Farrow had not given him advance warning about the notice of motion.