The Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council have made moves that would restrict public involvement in council meetings.
The council determined it spent more than $21,000 answering public forum questions from just one citizen, in part leading to these proposed changes.
The NSW Office of Local Government (OLG) has called for submissions to develop a model code of meeting practice to be shared to councils around the state.
The current submission is non-binding, however Mayor Tim Overall described it as providing “some guidance on what the council is thinking in regards to our own code of meeting practice”.
Some of the points endorsed by council include limiting public forum questions to five per person per meeting and restricting the time allowed for public submissions on matters to 30 minutes prior to council meetings.
Cr Overall said he supported these submissions as council staff had shown answering public forum questions was costly and time consuming.
A council spokesman said one member of the public had asked 533 questions since March 2017 and that council estimated it cost roughly $40 to answer each question when the hourly rate of involved staff was calculated.
That would amount to $21,320 to answer this one individual’s questions.
Cr Peter Marshall actively opposed the submission as put forward saying it restricted the public’s ability to be involved, particularly on council matters that have limited public consultation prior to a meeting.
“If we have a contentious issue do we shut the public down because we don’t want to hear from them?” Cr Marshall asked his fellow councillors.
“It might be inconvenient but being a councillor is inconvenient.
“I signed up for that inconvenience.”
Cr Marshall did admit some matters, such as development applications and major infrastructure works, where the public has multiple opportunities to provide feedback could be limited at meeting times.
Cr Michele Biscotti supported Mayor Overall’s motion saying the changes would require the public to work together to put forward a concise argument for or against an issue.
“I’m certainly not a fan of wasting resources and council staff time and/or money with repetitive and probably unnecessary questions,” Cr Biscotti said.
The council spokesman said council would consider different options for fitting the number of speakers into the designated 30 minutes when the OLG finalised its code.
Some options put forward by Cr Overall were to limit public speeches to three minutes per person or to limit speakers to two for an issue and two against an issue.