End date set for virtual council meetings

Hume council voted last week to end virtual meeting participation for councillors. (Unsplash)242957_01

By Oliver Lees

Hume councillors will not be allowed to attend meetings virtually after April, 2022.

At a meeting last week, a majority of councillors voted to discontinue the use of virtual meetings when the current emergency provisions of the Local Government Act 2020 expire on April 27, 2022.

Cr Karen Sherry said councillors who do not attend meetings in-person miss out on valuable interaction, which creates a “collegiate atmosphere” among councillors.

“It is not an onerous task to attend one meeting a fortnight in-person, particularly if councillors also have access to carer provisions if they have dependents and or caring responsibilities,” Cr Sherry said.

“[It] ensures that all councillors and the public gallery can engage in person. Indeed, council meetings are one of the few places that residents can engage with all the councillors at one time.”

On June 10, Local Government Victoria (LGV) issued a bulletin seeking submissions to reform virtual participation at meetings by June 30, 2021.

Hume councillors could vote to allow an automatic entitlement for councillors to attend meetings virtually; to allow councillors to seek approval to attend meetings virtually; or to discontinue the use of virtual meetings.

The third option was ultimately selected by council.

Mayor Joseph Haweil said video livestream of council meetings to the public would not be affected by the decision.

Cr Jackson said she was “really disappointed” that LGV had not sought community consultation before the matter was brought to council.

Cr Dance said council’s virtual meetings had been “very successful”.

“As a councillor and a resident, I find this new process excellent and makes even my time as a councillor far more productive,” Cr Dance said.

“Rather than sitting for hours in the car traveling to council meetings… that time wasted in the car will be better spent with our residents.”

Hume councillors were first able to participate in meetings virtually on May 11, 2020.

Cr Bell said he didn’t believe councillors could be “an active and strong part of this team” if they did not regularly attend council meetings in-person.

“I believe [attending meetings] is what I was elected to do, this is part of my job,” he said.

“I have an expectation and I’m sure our communities all have an expectation, that when they put their faith in us to do a task, to do a job, that we show up to do that job.”