CLOSED: The SDRC continues to tell residents they are unable to attend meetings, despite surrounding councils welcoming back their constituents.
CLOSED: The SDRC continues to tell residents they are unable to attend meetings, despite surrounding councils welcoming back their constituents.

Council budget meetings closed to constituents

A SERIES of special council meetings were conducted this week by the Southern Downs Regional Council, but the proceedings were neither broadcast to the public nor communicated with the media.

The meetings, conducted on June 16 and 17, invited submissions for spending in the 2020/21 financial year budget, and included proposals regarding Jumpers and Jazz, kerbside collection, and the Warwick Rodeo.

According to a spokeswoman from the SDRC, the meetings were part of a two stage review of the draft budget.

Staff were allegedly told not to broadcast the meeting to protect the privacy of the public representatives and because “it was similar to a briefing session.”

This seems to contradict earlier assertions from Southern Downs Mayor Vic Pennisi, who pledged to open briefing sessions to public scrutiny as part of his election campaign.

In a council meeting regarding local government transparency on February 3, the then-councillor said his personal view “is that briefing sessions just shouldn’t happen”.

“Councillors in briefing sessions sometimes walk a fine line between whether we’re making a decision in there or not,” Cr Pennisi said.

“I feel we are putting ourselves at great risk by doing that.”

The speakers were identified in the agenda items, and spoke directly to issues of ratepayer spending.

Members of the public were not invited to attend the meeting, due to coronavirus restrictions.

Most such restrictions were lifted in Queensland on June 1, and surrounding councils such as the Goondiwindi Regional Council and the Toowoomba Regional Council currently allow public attendance.

The SDRC spokeswoman said no recordings were available of the meeting, however minutes will be posted on the council website over the coming days.

She told the Daily News that council staff would be investigating the issue further.

The Daily News reached out to Cr Pennisi for comment, who advised he was unaware the meetings had not been broadcast and asked to receive further questions over email.

The Daily News did not receive a response in time for print.



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