A Labor mayor with the support of newly-elected councillors to the Eurobodalla Shire Council (ESC) would review, as a priority, ad hoc rules currently preventing open discussion during public forums.

David Grace said today councillors’ questions of speakers at council’s monthly public forums were a cornerstone of democracy, but ESC bans them.

“The good news is we have the support of the NSW Government’s Office of Local Government (OLG) to have that silencing technique reviewed within the first 12 months of the newly elected council,” said Labor’s mayoral candidate, David Grace. “I promise the review will be completed within the first 12 days if I have any say in the matter!

“We understand OLG has decreed the council is required to review its code of meeting practice in consultation with the community within one year following the next election.

“If I am elected mayor and with Labor councillors and other councillors supporting greater openness and transparency, it will be possible for us to update rules governing public forums to reflect a more democratic and ratepayer-friendly approach,” he said.

ESC only permits questions to be asked of speakers at public forums where the presenters can demonstrate they represent the organisation for which they purport to be speaking.

Mr Grace said this demand for proof and substantiation of a presenter’s credentials was introduced after a single incident in past years in which someone, who purported to speak for an organisation, was subsequently found by ESC not to be connected with the group, and had not accurately reflected its views.

“In this day and age of online checks, digital records and mobile phone technology, how difficult is it for an ESC staff member to vet all public presenters before the monthly forum to confirm their credentials to avoid this sort of issue?” Mr Grace said.

“My team and I consider the council’s ad hoc rule preventing councillors from engaging in questions and answers with the presenters to be highly unreasonable.

“We also believe the lack of formal documentation relating to this practice leaves it open to malicious or even spiteful decisions so as to close down useful and worthwhile discussion of issues of concern to the community, notwithstanding it is apparently considered ‘an agreed and accepted practice at ESC’s meetings’.

“There is nothing in the council’s formal code of meeting practice, or the OLG’s template code of meeting practice which prevents councillors asking questions of community members when they are presenting to council.

“There is no written ESC protocol; it has simply evolved over the years.

“This tactic to silence community interaction has gone on too long,” Mr Grace added.

Councillor candidates joining David Grace, of Broulee, in the 4 December council elections are: Maureen Searson in Batehaven, Matthew Findlay in Batemans Bay, Claire McAsh in Moruya, Deirdre Russack in Narooma and Jack Egan in Rosedale.