A FORMER local councillor has blasted Newcastle City Council for discussing important local matters behind closed doors.
John Sutton said the council’s move to discuss a rezoning proposal for the rail corridor, biodiversity reforms and executive performance reports in a “closed councillor workshop” on Tuesday night was “an inherently undemocratic process that shut out the community.”
The former Newcastle Greens councillor told the Newcastle Herald these meetings did not give the community equal standing with the proponents of developments. The process had “contaminated” local decision making.
“One of the key things considered in that closed workshop was the rezoning proposal for the rail corridor,” Mr Sutton said.
“It is now listed on the business papers for next week’s council meeting – it is listed as an item in the table of contents, but it says ‘endorsement of planned proposal’. The fact that there is already, in the language of the item listing itself, ‘endorsement’ – not ‘consideration’, shows there is already a predisposition about this that the community has not had the opportunity to address.”
Mr Sutton said the councillors could only hear one side of the story in these closed meetings, with no opportunity for the community to be privy to the information, or to challenge it.
He said the closed councillor meetings had happened before with other important local issues, such as the “T4” coal loader proposal and a green corridor development at Minmi Road.
Mr Sutton said the meetings were “problematic” given there was an open government agreement between Labor and The Greens that was made public during the 2014 Lord Mayoral by-election. He found it “highly ironic” that the council would now consider the rail corridor proposal during “Right to Know Week” from September 26 to October 2.
A spokesman said council's code of meeting practice stated that all workshops were closed to the public except those opened by “resolution of council or a committee of council or the general manager.”
Deputy Lord Mayor Jason Dunn said that council had informal workshops on the second and third Tuesday of every month, which gave councillors an opportunity to “ask staff questions and seek information”. Decisions were not made.
Councillor Stephanie Posniak said the council was following its code of meeting practice and the Local Government Act, and that every month they had the same schedule.
“The next process after we have gathered information is to have a public briefing, which Labor supports,” Cr Posniak said.