‘Open line’ for ‘transparency’

Geelong Mayor Stephanie Asher

by Luke Voogt

Geelong Mayor Stephanie Asher has begun holding weekly media conferences in a bid improve council “transparency and accessibility”.

The conferences aimed to “open up the conversation” with local journalists, giving their readers more insight into council’s work and the challenges facing the community, according to Cr Asher.

“In my experience, good relationships are based on honesty and transparency and I have always been keen to establish an open line of communication to the media,” she said.

“I’m also keen to help the community understand what goes on at council and how we make decisions and why things happen the way they do.”

The current council was “very keen to improve when it comes to decision-making”, Cr Asher said.

Community focus forums in suburban Geelong and council’s current live-streaming of City Hall meetings would continue to support this aim, she said.

The move comes after the Independent revealed in August 2017 that Geelong’s temporary administrators had introduced policies to effectively gag councillors.

The administrators, who replaced Geelong’s sacked council in 2016, introduced a policy prohibiting future councillors commenting on “key City announcements” and “controversial” matters, without mayoral approval.

The administrators also scrapped portfolios, which councillors reinstated after their election in October 2017.

While many elements of that policy remain, it appears to have loosened with several councillors speaking to the Independent last year about controversial issues affecting their constituents.

Last April Surf Coast Shire councillor Heather Wellington took aim at a similar policy for her council.

Cr Wellington “strongly disagreed” with the policy requiring councillors to avoid posting “unflattering” photos of others, “liking” social media posts and talking to journalists.

The policy also prevented councillors saying anything that could publicly undermine “council decisions or other councillors” and requested that journalists confirm material prior to publication.

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