Mayor changes tune on council meeting debate

NOT a single Mackay Regional Council meeting in 2015 lasted an hour.

And within meeting minutes, there was only four times recorded where a councillor voted against a decision.

But Mayor Deirdre Comerford said the short and sweet meetings did not reflect a lack of transparency - it reflected unity.

"When you have very few contentious issues and your staff follows policy and procedures, then you don't create an atmosphere for there to be debate," Cr Comerford said.

"There's no greater achievement than when councillors and the management team is in sync."

But the statement appeared off-kilter with comments she made four years ago.

On November 11, 2011 The Daily Mercury ran a story 'Two sides to question of transparency within council' where then-councillor Comerford voiced her disapproval of the way council meetings ran.

"Ideally, briefing sessions or informal meetings should be where councillors have the opportunity to seek clarification, receive updates immediately prior to a council meeting," she had said.

"It should not be where you're building consensus as it results in 'rubber stamping' of decisions at council meetings.

"Debate, discussion and ultimately the decision-making process should be reserved for council meetings."

But in 2015 Mackay Regional Council meetings were on average two hours and nine minutes quicker than Rockhampton Regional Council meetings and 52 minutes faster than Townsville City Council's.

Cr Comerford said the process was "open and transparent".

She also said discussion wasn't welcome in 2011, whereas now she "never quashed anyone's individual opinion".

"We don't have a politically aligned council," she said.

"I feel for council staff at other locations. Sometimes it's about political nonsense, not the agenda item.

She said council was involved in a "truckload of community engagement", which meant council staff were able to accurately gauge public opinion on most matters.

And she said a strict set of policy and procedures meant council just had to follow the guidelines for many other issues.

"Reports that come forward have totally covered all that need to be covered," she said.

"(But also) I think in our council every person is able to bring their point of view to an issue."

She also believed Rockhampton and Townsville used an "old-fashioned committee structure", where more time was used at meetings getting filled in on different council activities. "But on our council everyone sits in on everything," she said.


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