A mammoth 946-page agenda, set down for the last council meeting before the local government election, has prompted calls for candidates to commit to restructuring future meetings.
Port Stephens Council was to meet for the last time on Tuesday night before going into caretaker mode until the election on September 9.
The monster agenda, containing more than 30 items, has frustrated the Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents Association (TRRA), which labelled it “ridiculous” and prompted the group to lobby candidates seeking election for the next term.
The group was largely concerned that councillors could not adequately research and make binding decisions in such an acute time frame between the briefing of matters during committee meetings and voting during the ordinary meeting.
“[It’s] a very big agenda released on the Friday before Tuesday’s final meeting, many controversial items with far-reaching consequences set to be railroaded through with minimal community input, which if considered properly by councillors would have required long hours of research over the weekend,” the TRRA’s Dick Appleby said.
When the current council was elected in 2012 it voted to change the meeting structure. Before, councillors would gather on the first Tuesday of the month for a committee of the whole meeting.
It was a chance to discuss issues informally, and seek more information before the ordinary meeting on the fourth Tuesday of the month.
Now, councillors have a brief committee meeting before the ordinary meeting, which is held the second and fourth Tuesday of the month.
East ward councillor John Nell, who has been in local government for 30 years, said he was originally opposed to the current meeting system but now that he is used to it, believes it works well.
“Yes, our final business paper is enormous,” Cr Nell said.
“You can't read it word for word but without sounding too causal about it, you don't need to read it word for word either.
“You learn to look for what you want.
“Most of the time our business papers are quite minute because we are more and more acting like a council or board rather than a hands-on council. The need for it [committee followed by the ordinary meeting] has diminished somewhat over the years.”
Mr Appleby said TRRA was concerned that the current structure of council meetings gave residents and community groups little opportunity to have input on issues or lobby councillors.
He said the group has been calling candidates that have said they will run in the next local government election about the issue.
Labor Party candidates Des Maslen, Giacomo Arnott and David Simm all expressed concern at the size of Tuesday’s council agenda.
“True to form, ratepayers are being denied the opportunity to properly examine the agenda items through the sheer amount of information being presented,” Mr Maslen, Labor’s mayoral candidate, said.
“There are so many controversial decisions being made in this meeting, from flood mounds, to spot rezonings, to the Salt Ash Pony Club, to the ongoing operation of the Ngioka centre.
“These are all items that the new council should be determining, after the community has had its say at the September 9 election.”
Mayoral candidate Ryan Palmer also weighed in, saying his preference would be to revert to the previous structure where there was a two week gap between meetings to discuss any issues.