More than a year ago Redlands’ elected councillors asked CEO Bill Lyon to prepare a report on use of community panels as reference, advisory and/or review groups.
The CEO says the research was completed and the report prepared many months ago.
So why has the report not been discussed at a council meeting?
Back in 2015 Redland City Council was not effectively engaging the community in decision making.
The Council was found to have been consulting about the Draft City Plan secretively with developers via the Development Industry Reference Group (DIRG) rather than openly with the community.
Council’s plans for selling off public parks, developed and readied behind closed doors, were lambasted by the community when they were finally revealed.
Consideration of getting residents more involved in Council decision making seemed like a step in the right direction.
Since then we’ve had an election. The Council’s make up has changed but there now doesn’t seem to be any urgency about involving the community in Redland City Council decision making. Was it just a pre-election gesture?
Community panels and citizen juries
In early August 2015, Redlands2030 reported about local councils getting communities more actively involved in decision making by empowering the community and setting up “citizen juries” – community panels to deliberate and contribute on Council issues.
This is not a new idea. Community panels were pioneered in the USA in the 1970s.
Council calls for a report on “community panels”
At its general meeting on 26 August 2015, Redland City Council passed a resolution asking CEO Bill Lyon to prepare a report:
on best practices in local government around the world on the use and application of community panels as reference, advisory and/or review groups
The resolution approved by Council requested that the report be brought back to Council in three months time:
for a workshop in November 2015 for guidance and direction prior to final report being considered by Council.
At the 26 August 2015 meeting, councillors approved up to $10,000 to commission the report.
A few weeks later, on 21 October 2015, Councillors amended the resolution’s wording to delete reference to the amount of $10,000. Perhaps the Council staff thought the job was bigger than first anticipated and would require more effort than could be funded with $10,000.
Resolutions on both 26 August 2015 and 21 October 2015 were both carried unanimously. But a year later it seems that this issue has been put on the back burner.
What the councillors said
During the 18 minute Council discussion at the meeting in August 2015 many of our elected representatives fully supported the idea of directly involving the community in council decision making.
Cr Alan Beard said that the use of community panels by Local Government is a growing trend around the world.
Cr Paul Bishop said the results of community empowerment could be extraordinary.
Cr Hewlett said “an empowered community is a happy community”.
CEO Bill Lyon said that the Noosa Shire Council’s Community Panels were a “brilliant outcome” and that he supported the motion.
In summing up, Cr Beard said that his proposal would give the community some degree of confidence that they don’t have now.
So what’s happened in the last year?
So far as the community is concerned 14 months has passed and nothing has happened. The Council’s secretive decision making processes continue. Most decisions get discussed by officers and councillors in non-public meetings, quaintly described as “workshops”.
When the ducks have been lined up, matters are then brought to a public general meeting for approval usually involving very little debate.
Redlands2030 asked Council CEO Bill Lyon what had happened to Council’s investigation into use of community panels. He said:
Councillors have not made final decisions on this matter. Research and a report has been prepared. As this was ready just prior to Council Elections it was decided to hold this over till the new council was in a position to review and decide on what action they wish to take.
Officers are currently endeavouring to schedule workshops with the councillors, I anticipate this being discussed in the next month or so.
It’s six months since the local government elections. The lack of action following a resolution by elected councillors raises questions about Redland City Council’s leadership, management and governance.