By Craig Chappelle
PUBLIC question time, for many years a popular informal feature of Denmark’s shire council meetings, may be facing its Waterloo, following a rebuke delivered from the chair at the October 15 meeting.
Two members of the public, both former councillors, indicated that they wished to speak about matters to which they had already spoken at previous council meetings and received written answers to questions on notice – twice, in one instance.
Shire president Ceinwen Gearon reminded them and others in the gallery that council was not obliged to provide time for public questions at all, but it had become a traditional part of proceedings over the years and was valued by the community and council.
However, while the unwritten rule usually prevailed of staying within reasonable and respectful bounds, there had been a gradual erosion of this concession by people making pointed and prolonged statements about off-the-agenda matters, and trying to debate or argue council decisions.
Cr Gearon said that such behaviour went against the spirit and intent of public question time and would no longer be tolerated, noting that
• questions relating to items of business on the agenda would be given priority
• statements, comments and opinions were unacceptable except in response to a question from council or staff
• a person would not permitted to speak again at any second question time during a meeting, whether on the same subject or not
• questions may not be directed to individual councillors, and
• the five-minute time limit on each speaker would be rigorously applied.
Nothing announced by Cr Gearon was outside the existing formal protocols – rather, it was a restatement of them, and should result in council and onlookers saving time and angst at future meetings.
With the makeup of council changing little as a result of the recent elections it will be interesting to see if and how the dynamic of public question time evolves.
See Council Clippings on page 11.