By Mitchell Clarke
The voice of Casey ratepayers has labelled a decision to slash the number of council meetings in half as “lacking transparency and undermining democracy”.
As part of an operational review, the City of Casey has reduced the number of meetings in 2021 to 11, with the meeting also permanently shifted from 6.30pm to 4pm.
Prior to that, meetings were generally held twice monthly, but the new frequency is consistent with a number of other local councils including Cardinia and Bayside.
But Casey Residents and Ratepayers Association (CRRA) secretary Brendan Browne said the decision appeared to have been carried out with “little to no public consultation”.
“Certainly it caught us by surprise,” he said.
“Council meetings are a very important part of local democracy so it effectively means that we miss out on, or have less of an opportunity to have a voice and pose questions during meetings.”
He argued the reduction in meetings could pose various other challenges, including a timely response issues.
“Sometimes decisions on timely matters just can’t wait a full month for them to be heard,” he said.
“It also sets a poor example for elected councillors, when we eventually get them. It kind of sets the message that doing the bare minimum is enough.”
The Casey Council was dismissed in February this year, meaning the next election won’t be held until October 2024.
During a period without councillors, Mr Browne said transparency was needed more than ever.
“If they want to save money, there’s plenty of ways to do so, you don’t do it by cutting down on transparency and undermining local democracy,” he said.
“We should’ve learnt that lesson in the past. There’s long been a lack of transparency before but the City of Casey are still not addressing it.”
City of Casey Governance Manager Rhys Matulis said residents and ratepayers could contact the council’s administrators through the ‘Casey Conversations’ online engagement platform.
“We have an absolute focus on being transparent and providing opportunities for local democracy and community engagement and have seen a significant increase,” Mr Matulis said.
“Earlier this year we undertook extensive community engagement to inform how the Casey community wants to be engaged and on what matters. That engagement informed and shaped our Community Engagement Policy that was endorsed by council in August this year.”