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Community voices omitted from Council minutes

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Emily Waite
Emily Waite
Emily Waite has been the Editor of the North Central Review since late April, 2024. With a particular focus on delivering community driven stories, Emily has been responsible for implementing the new 'Words of wisdom' segment, and regularly reaches out to residents both young and old to share their stories with the paper. Emily graduated with high distinctions in a Bachelor of Music from JMC Academy in 2022, and graduated with a Graduate Diploma in Writing and Literature from Deakin University in 2023.

A group of locals have raised concerns over the accuracy and transparency of Council meeting minutes, stating that their submissions against a Landscape Assessment Study were omitted from public access.

Funded by Council, the Landscape Assessment Study recommends the creation of Significant Landscape Overlays (SLO) on the granitic uplands in Pyalong and Tooborac, Mount Piper at Broadford, the enlargement of an existing SLO in the Tallarook and Trawool valley, and updates to the SLO on the Kilmore Outdoor Historic Recreation Precinct.

However, land designated for an SLO in the Pyalong, Tooborac, Tallarook, and Trawool area is classified as Farming Zone, and the proposed changes concerned many local farmers who questioned the future of their agriculture enterprises – many which have been in families for generations.

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Armed with verbal submissions, concerned residents attended Council’s Community Questions and Hearings Committee Meeting at Council Chambers early last month.

Cr Eldridge issued an apology and Cr Chisholm declared a conflict of interest, being that he was one of the affected landowners. All other councillors and five council officers were present.

Therese Ryan, one of the affected residents who attended the meeting, said that 10 verbal submissions were addressed to councillors and officers, with five submissions eliciting questions from the listening panel. On two occasions, a councillor sought clarification from staff via zoom, the Senior Strategic Planner, who Mrs Ryan stated was neither afforded his full title nor was his presence recorded in the minutes.

During the consultation process, Council received 112 submissions, many from those who also attended the meeting, to ensure Council understood the severity of the situation.

“We had all lodged written submissions and attended drop-in sessions with planning officers,” Mrs Ryan said.

“Those of us who spoke to the councillors on June 3, were accorded a letter of invitation … We were fully aware that this was not a decision-making meeting, and our first and last opportunity to address all councillors on this matter.

“Imagine our astonishment to discover that the draft minutes of the meeting have totally omitted the 10 submissions and others who attended!”.

Mrs Ryan, along with husband Brendan, Geoff and Pam Albers, Leone Hennessy/Ryan, Pat and Penny Ryan, Lyndon Arnel, Robyn Early, and Chris Ryan, stated they were concerned that the minutes were not a true and accurate reflection of the meeting.

Speaking to Item 8.1, Mrs Ryan stated that ‘the 10 submissions and questions accounted for one hour and five minutes of meeting time.’

“If you add on the eight minutes of presentation time which fell under Item 8.2, there is a total of one hour and 13 minutes of Mitchell Shire business not recorded in the draft minutes,” she said.

“The recommendation Council voted on at the conclusion of Item 8.1 was simply repeated from the agenda, with no further wording to indicate submissions had been given.

“In a total meeting time of one hour and 51 minutes, only what occurred for 28 minutes is recorded in the draft minutes.”

Additionally, Mrs Ryan noted that although Chief Executive Brett Luxford had requested clarification from council officers on whether the proposed SLO’s were discriminatory to affected farmers, with a report to come back to Council in the meeting, the minutes failed to recognise this.

However, Mr Luxford stated that it was ‘standard practice for Council not to include the submissions made at Community Questions and Hearings Committee meetings in the official minutes.’

“A list of submitters is maintained by Council staff for the purpose of the meeting and distributed to the Committee for their reference. The names are not recorded in the minutes as the meetings purpose is to hear submissions only, and consider them for when Council makes its decision,” he said.

“For those interested in seeing who the submitters were or hearing the submissions, they can either watch the meeting live (in person or online) or refer to the recording of the meeting available on Council’s website the day after the meeting.”

The response did not satisfy the concerned group, however, who are urging Council to amend draft minutes to ‘accurately reflect the full scope of the meeting and to ensure that community concerns are properly documented and addressed.’

“A reading of these draft minutes by any ratepayer, resident, media, etc., gives no impetus to go and look at the full recording of the meeting … these draft minutes would not pass a pub test,” Mrs Ryan said.

“The integrity of the Council’s processes and the trust of the community depend on it.”

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