Can there ever be too much transparency?

At what stage does a desire for absolute transparency start to hinder due process?

Maybe council has recently discovered where the sensible point lies between the two sides of this complex coin, for its meetings, at least.

At the start of the new council period in September last year, it was agreed that all questions councillors had would be asked in public at the council meetings.

Prior to the new council starting, councillors wanting to ask questions or seeking clarification on agenda items, could ask council staff in a one hour meeting on the day of the general council meeting.

It was an informal question and answer session that fell outside of any formal meeting code of practice.

For anyone attending council – and almost certainly for staff – it very quickly became apparent that the combination of this transparency and the addition of four new councillors to council was making for extended meetings.

Transparency, of course, should never be subject to the desires of council watchers and staff to get home before 7.30pm but the issue wasn’t just about openness, with meetings starting to deteriorate from the standard code of meeting practice.

There is nothing particularly edifying about seeing councillors bandy words over who has control of a meeting and whether they are doing it correctly, even less so when some of this is spoken sotto voce.

Council was starting to take on the look of a group of individuals all fighting their own corners with little thought for its purpose – to represent the shire residents who voted for them. Privately, there have been mutterings of discontent, and concern about its effect on council business.

Recently a majority of councillors voted to reinstate the one hour informal question and answer session on the day of the council meeting; attendance is voluntary and there is not code of meeting practice.

In the privacy of their own offices, I suspect council staff gave a sigh of relief.

New councillors need the opportunity to find their feet, ask any questions they want so that when they do attend public meetings, the questions they ask are the important ones. Much of council’s business covers some very complex issues that have to be reduced down to a “do we” “don’t we” argument but that should not happen before a lot of reading and the opportunity to be as informed as possible.

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