Nambucca Valley Council holds final face-to-face meeting

Nambucca Valley Council holds final face-to-face meeting

Thursday's council meeting at its chambers is likely to be the last of its kind for a while.

Councillors and staff were separated at the meeting, in line with social distancing protocol, and there was no address from the public, making for an unusual atmosphere in the room.

Council IT staff are currently working to move meetings online, with councillors to participate via video link.

Last week the NSW Government cleared a path for such a move by passing an emergency measures bill.

While it's a necessary precaution, Mayor Rhonda Hoban is nervous this change could potentially slow the wheels of democracy.

"All it could take is for a councillor to hit the wrong button, or a technical glitch, or for someone who lives in an area with poor internet connectivity, and suddenly we wouldn't be able to vote on a motion," she said.

"And I'm not sure yet how we will count the votes."

Council meetings have also been scaled back to one per month.

Cr David Jones questioned this decision and asked why meetings couldn't continue to be held in person in council chambers, with appropriate social distancing measures in place.

"I think council is an essential service," he said.

We all go to the supermarket and there are staff there at far greater risk than we are here. I think we can manage our risk here.

"As things develop we can adapt, but at this stage I think the message we should be sending is that we're prepared to turn up and carry on with business."

Cr Hoban agreed with Cr Jones about the optics of the changes, but said scaling back the meetings was necessary with the now skeleton staff rostered on at council and the "considerable work that goes into the business papers" for each meeting.

Assistant General Manager Corporate Services Robert Hunt said there was nothing currently stopping council from meeting in its offices as per usual.

It's just that things are going elsewhere in the world - like in New Zealand, for example, they've just gone into lockdown for a month. So whether we could physically attend this chamber in future is up in the air. It could happen next week, it could happen in two weeks' time - we don't know at this point. So we want to be prepared if [council meetings are] not going to be here, to be able to do it remotely.

Mr Robert Hunt

Cr John Ainsworth added that a good reason to proceed with online meetings is in the event of a councillor's immediate family member contracting COVID-19.

"If they themselves are not ill, there's no reason they can't participate in a Skype-type meeting," he said.

The new once-per-month schedule of meetings between April and September was approved, but with a note that they might need to be amended in future.

The next meeting is scheduled for April 30.

A motion was also passed to temporarily delegate authority over council functions to the Mayor and General Manager should a quorum of councillors not be able to be met for any future meetings, due to COVID-19 infection.

"This is a unique and evolving situation and council needs to be able to respond fluidly to situations which would normally require a council resolution," the business paper reads.

There is a list of items which the delegated authority does not have the power to make decisions about, as spelled out in the Local Government Act 1993 Section 377 which you can read here.

"We're still dealing with the impacts of the bushfires. In three to four months' time we might be in complete turmoil. This council will need the strong leadership of someone who knows the organisation," Cr Hoban said.

A motion to begin processes to recruit a new General Manager was deferred until the next council meeting.

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