FRANKLY, it wasn’t a good look when Bass Coast Mayor Cr Michael Whelan dismissed community question time on a whim at the council meeting last Wednesday.
While there are regulars who submit questions to council’s monthly meetings, there are always those who have made a special effort to ask for details about a special charge scheme, a delayed pathway, pool project or vegetation removal where they haven’t received a satisfactory answer through the usual channels or want council’s commitment on the books.
Cr Whelan said he had decided to put all of the questions ‘on notice’, that is to answer them at another time, because there wasn’t going to be enough time at the meeting, and also because it was the first hybrid meeting, livestreamed and open to the public.
As it turned out, there were 14 questions approved to be brought to council and an unspecified number of questions, submitted but not deemed appropriate for council to consider.
And in the end, council only met for one hour and 15 minutes, leaving plenty of time for a question-and-answer session at the start of the meeting.
At the very least, the decision to do away with public question time should have been the subject of a council vote but what the move by Cr Whelan indicated is that the Mayor and the administration don’t like question time, that it is somehow a waste of council’s time when more important matters are on the agenda.
In fact, there is no more important role for a council than having direct contact with the community and ensuring that their concerns and their input have the highest possible priority.
The council has a clear policy on accepting and dealing with community questions at its council meeting and until that policy is changed, that’s where the questions must remain, even if council has to run on for an extra hour or more.
Sure, the council can change the policy of question time, but councillors would need to think long and hard before putting their hands up for such a key change to meeting procedure.