Monday, March 23, 2009

Route 86 consultation wastes deadline extension

Following last Wednesday's public meeting on the Route 86 project at Northcote Town Hall, the City of Darebin has done little to progress its promised roundtable discussions, and has failed to publish on the web the details of the further consultation, or the additional options it presented at the meeting. So much for transparency, and so much for the fast-approaching extended deadline on 14 April.

Of the many people I have spoken to about this issue, no-one who has put themselves forward to take part has yet received a response about attending the discussions, and there is little evidence that Council has promoted the opportunity to do so among residents or businesses who may not have attended the public meeting.

This has been despite the election of a more progressive Council last November, a positive Council meeting last Monday to secure the deadline extension, and the attendance of Mayor Diana Asmar and Councillor Trent McCarthy at the public meeting to hear residents' concerns.

A notable absence at that meeting was Councillor Steven Tsitas, one of four Councillors - including Mayor Asmar - who declared a conflict and could not take part in last Monday's vote on the motion to extend the consultation deadline. With Councillor Gaetano Greco on leave of absence, the motion was ultimately not put to a Council vote due to the lack of the required quorum, but authorised instead by Darebin CEO, Michael Ulbrick, on the spot.

The first point to note is that a possible conflict presumably does not preclude representation of your constituency, as Mayor Asmar has shown. A Councillor can listen to constituents, attend public meetings, and advocate on behalf of residents and businesses to Council officers without landing in hot water over any potential conflict of interest.

The second point is that, with four Councillors having declared a conflict at the Council meeting, they will presumably be unable to vote when Council officers finally report on this proposal and make their recommendations.

Depending on the return of Councillor Greco, this may leave less than a majority of Councillors to vote on the issue, and therefore once again without the necessary quorum for a vote to occur. I understand Darebin Council is seeking legal advice on this issue, which needs to be quickly resolved if there is to be any sort of vote at all on this proposal.

In the meantime, the consultation is showing all the signs that led the City of Darebin to score so poorly on its own 2008 report card in the area of community engagement. With a clearly more progressive Council in place, it can surely do a lot better than this. Get on to your Councillors to demand progress on the consultation, and register your interest in joining the roundtable discussions on the issues of concern that have been identified so far.

It is my hope that the separate discussions will be appropriately linked (for example, a couple of business owners in the service road discussion among a majority of residents, and vice versa in the parking discussion for businesses). As I said at the public meeting, the proceedings of these discussions must be transparent as they progress, so that there is every chance of a solution that optimally meets everyone's needs.

Update: See the Route 86 project page at the Darebin website for a series of meetings on the evenings of Tuesday 31 March and Wednesday 1 April. Of four sessions, one hour on the Tuesday is devoted to 'Westgarth issues', with one hour the following night on cycling issues - presumably for the whle project. I had expected there would be themed meetings on issues such as the service lane, loss of parking and cycling, but at least the first two have been compressed. It is also disappointing to note that the meetings begin almost two weeks after the public meeting, and that the additional options then presented are not on the website. I got my email about the sessions after 5.00pm today. If you haven't received yours, email to take part.

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