It has been troubling to watch Council meetings online recently. They appear to be a variation on a very badly run community group. How many times have we been to a meeting and witnessed a chair, who really doesn’t know how to manage a meeting, trying to manage local folks who have all arrived with mixed agendas.
It’s a shame that the premier chamber for our city is being poorly chaired and some (not most) Councillors are so badly behaved. The bad behaviour is not just what people are saying to each other but also the behind-the-scenes behaviour by some in powerful places, including the bureaucracy. People from the outside can see this bad behaviour and the confidence in our Council has slipped away.
There have been several examples over the past few weeks which highlight this unacceptable behaviour.
One was when Aaron Keown was censored unanimously by his colleagues who passed a Vote of No Confidence in him. Keown’s subsequent petulant behaviour is, frankly, disgraceful. He was instructed by his fellow elected reps to apologise to staff for his comments and he is refusing. He should be reminded of his obligation and if he doesn’t, he should be removed from the Council meetings until he does.
That would send a message.
Another example of badly managed Council meetings recently was when a presenter making a submission (when other submitters with differing views were not invited back) behaved in a boorish manner. She should have been stopped and asked to behave respectfully or told to leave. Instead, as she continued to behave badly, there were Points of Order mishandled by the mayor. The was a complete absence of decorum and the whole thing descended into what happens when there’s little attention to the rules of debate.
It reminded me of a chaotic family gathering where everyone hates each other but tries to deny it.
The way Council conducts its business must change. There are many good people around that table. There are still old staff who remember how meetings were conducted. When Council was held in much higher regard. In my last year as Mayor the public support rating was 79%. Now it’s in the low 40’s. That says something all on its own.
Part of restoring things to how they should be is to require the Mayor to chair meetings properly and to have somebody next to him who an advise him on interpretations of Standing Orders. A comprehensive understanding of Standing Orders is a challenge. I always had a lawyer alongside me as I chaired Council, who I regularly asked for advice on Standing Orders.
In last week’s Press Chrissie Williams, a former City Councillor, wrote this in a Letter to the Editor:
At Wednesday’s Council meeting five Councillors walked out. The Mayor blamed his mis-management of the meeting on ‘strong ladies’. Gender had nothing to do with it.
The Mayor and Councillors need better mastery of Standing Orders. All of them need more training.
Under Standing Orders, during the Public Forum, the Mayor should have terminated the offending presentation as the speaker was criticising Councillors and staff and who had previously spoken on the same issue.
Over a number of years, changes to meeting procedures in an attempt to reduce formality, have had a detrimental effect on members’ conduct.
If members stood to speak during debate, it would be clear they had the right to speak without interruption. The Mayor could also use his discretion to take control of meetings by standing, meaning members must sit down, be silent and listen to the Mayor.
The way members address each other changes the demeanour in the chamber. Using first names may be acceptable, but frequently calling each other ‘mate’ or ‘matey’ leads to unnecessary over-familiarity.
Bringing back decorum to Council meetings should improve behaviour, and hopefully lead to better participation and decision-making.
I agree with every word written by Chrissie Williams. The Council chamber is the place for formal debates. When a councillor is debating, they should have 3 minutes each, and should stand. The Mayor could allow one extra minute for a Councillor to complete their argument. If it makes sense. Otherwise, the next speaker could then present their contribution to the debate.
Let’s restore the Council chamber to its proper status of our cities premier chamber for discussion, deliberation and voting on the matters which affect our everyday lives.
Rosemary adds: The mayor a while ago talked about staff ‘Running Amok’ – here it is people in his debating chamber running amok and he needs to do something about it.