I happened across an interesting piece of historical information this week which is very relevant considering we are on the eve of local council elections.
From the pages of the book, By These We Flourish: A History of Warrnambool, I discovered that during the 1950s and ’60s, Warrnambool City Council was considered “extremely secretive”.
The book describes such things as, “the minutes of council meetings generally gave no more than a bare outline of proceedings and often ignored important issues altogether” (similar to today).
It goes on to explain how the then editor of The Standard, Mr Bruce Morris, “campaigned vigorously against the obsessive secrecy of the council’s activities”.
The formation of the Ratepayers Association whose members included Frank McCarthy, Stan Brown, J. J. Leahy and M. Gladman were also instrumental in the breakdown of this secrecy.
For the past six years that I have been attending council meetings, I have often aired my concerns about secrecy, the lack of council accountability and transparency.
There are many who will know and understand why I believe we should be concerned about it but I suspect that there are just as many who think I am a conspiracy theorist.
As the adage goes — “history repeats itself”.
My fear is that if we allow this to go unchecked, we could spiral into the same depths of “obsessive secrecy of the council’s activities” that were prevalent in the past.
I believe it is absolutely necessary to implement a number of procedures to ensure that we don’t go back down that path.
For many years I have campaigned for much greater accessibility and inclusion of the community in council and much greater accountability and transparency.
Recording the public meetings and altering the start time from 5.30pm to, say, 7pm to allow members of the public to attend would be a good start to keeping councillors honest and accountable.
Streaming meetings via the internet would be a good way for the public to see exactly what goes on in the chambers. Essentially, good councillors will be re-elected and poor performers might just find themselves out in the cold.
Another valid reason to implement these changes is that the public have no idea of how each councillor performs over their four-year tenure or even as a collective.
We are then left with the situation we have now (being election time) where a great majority have no first-hand knowledge to base their vote on.
The very disturbing reality is that we are now seeing some councillors making promises or campaigning on things that they voted against or didn’t support over the last four years.
Peter Sycopoulis, Jackman Avenue, Warrnambool