Virtual shire becomes a reality


Discussion and debate: Ten of Mornington Peninsula Shire’s 11 councillors “attended” their first online meeting on Tuesday 12 May. The meeting was also streamed live to YouTube where it was watched by an unseen and unrated (in television terms) audience.

Mornington Peninsula Shire councillors last week held their first virtual council meeting.

Like schoolchildren and businesses throughout the country, councillors and support staff have now adapted to going online to keep the shire on track. And, like schoolchildren, their online performances may count towards an end of the year judgement following the state government’s announcements late Friday that municipal elections will be held as planned on Saturday 24 October.

Local Government Minister Adam said “safe and secure” postal voting would be held in all municipalities.

He said the government would spend more money to achieve its aim of “gender equality on councils by 2025”.

In recognition of social distancing requirements, the Victorian Electoral Commission would allow candidates to provide longer statements to be included in voter information packs.

During the shire’s Tuesday 12 May meeting Mornington Peninsula councillors – and anyone else watching – could see each other on a split screen with the meeting agenda displayed on the left-hand side of the screen.

Guidelines for councils to have online, live streamed meetings (on the shire’s YouTube channel) were included in the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act passed by the state government on 23 April.

For councillors to be counted as “present”, they must be able to be seen and heard by other councillors simultaneously. At least six of the shire’s 11 councillors must be appearing on the split screen for a quorum (Cr Frank Martin did not join the shire’s first virtual meeting).

The chair of the meeting – the mayor Cr Sam Hearn on 12 May – is tasked with making sure councillors remain at the meeting, even though they are in different locations.

However, the chair can also “mute and unmute” councillors and officers “to allow them to speak in an equitable and appropriate manner”.

As with physical council meetings, councillors must “leave the meeting entirely” if they declare a conflict of interest and not return until they are called back via mobile phone.

If any part of a meeting is closed to discuss confidential matters, councillors must not allow anyone else to watch or record that part of the meeting. Councillors must advise if they are having “connectivity” issues and make sure their individual camera remains switched on while they are present in the meeting.

They also need to make sure they have a mobile phone nearby as a back-up device and must ensure the “corporate backdrop” is on camera (the screen shot taken by The News appears to show some councillors without the required backdrop).

Questions from the public must be submitted by midday the day before a scheduled council meeting.

First published in the Mornington News – 19 May 2020


Comments are closed.