Are roaming council meetings effective?

November 02, 2017

Councillors Chris Hazelman, Fern Summer and Bruce Giovanetti at this month's Shepparton City Council meeting in Tatura.

Greater Shepparton City Council this month hosted its first meeting in Tatura in two years.

The council has in recent times held a couple of meetings each year in neighbouring towns, with the pitch being to offer an opportunity ‘‘to witness how decisions are formally made’’ and give would-be councillors ‘‘an insight into the council meeting process’’.

It is interesting to consider the value added by making sure residents in other areas of the municipality are given the chance to experience how the sometimes rusty, other times fluid cogs of local government turn.

A cynic might observe the location change as more symbolic than anything.

A token exercise to help shrug off the perception of a Shepp-centric council?

One wonders, does anything on the agenda in a meeting held in a town outside of Shepparton directly interface with the residents of that town?

Ironically, if very little does, it could appear to only propagate the Shepp-centric perception.

Another question: If a meeting is held in Tatura and in Mooroopna each year, why not hold one of the 15 odd meetings in Dookie, Katandra, Murchison, Ardmona, Merrigum or Toolamba?

Realistically, plenty of work goes into the preparation and behind the scenes of a council meeting and having a central location certainly makes life easier for officers.

No doubt further complicating matters is the now entrenched live-streaming of council meetings.

The question remains, does hosting meetings outside of Shepparton operate as a tool through which to engage ratepayers in those communities? And if so, how effective is it?

Arguably the mayor and chief executive catch-up sessions held across the municipality are more effective places to raise concerns about communities with decisions-makers.

The up-take rate of these sessions remains unclear.

And the council’s success in properly engaging with small towns should rather be the effective implementation of services, provisions of infrastructure, and in the rollout of its community plans.

The ability of anyone in the municipality to live stream a council meeting has removed the need for a council meeting to be hosted close to home, when they can more comfortably tune in from the comfort of their couch, with a box of popcorn in hand.

But perhaps being on the ground in a town, making decisions, matters, if only in a symbolic sense.

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