For a process which is meant to answer questions, the Greater Shepparton City Council’s public question time is a genuine head-scratcher.
As sometime question-asker Rod Schubert has argued, the format seems a far cry from its potential to be a user-friendly forum for residents to engage in a sensible, constructive discussion with the city’s municipal leaders.
And if the council is wondering, or even bemoaning, why more don’t take part, they need look no further than the way this part of each monthly council meeting is set out.
Let’s start with the deadlines.
‘‘Your question must be received by the Council at least five clear business days prior to the ordinary meeting. Ordinary Council meetings are currently held on the third Tuesday of each month, so this means questions must be received by the Monday of the week prior to the meeting if they are to be answered at the next available meeting,’’ reads the question time section of the council’s website.
To think more than a week is needed to offer an answer to a resident’s questions seems a stretch.
One imagines if the meetings ran as an open forum, question and answer session, where inquiries are addressed and dealt with there and then, participation would increase.
At present, this time line associated with submitting questions does nothing to encourage participation.
Furthermore, the scheduling of the questions time as virtually the final item on the meeting agenda could surely be improved.
Elsewhere on the aforementioned council website, it reads: ‘‘If you are not in the gallery to hear the answer to your question, it will be held over to the next ordinary Council meeting’’.
Questioners who might have little interest in many of the other items being considered at the meeting, thus, are forced to sit through an entire meeting awaiting an answer to their question.
It is hardly a new or novel idea, but placing question at the start of meetings would also act as a proactive measure to boost interest.
In an era of instant information, the way the council’s question time is co-ordinated seems antiquated.
And rife with obstacles to achieve its chief goal: To answer the questions of ratepayers.
At the moment it doesn’t seem terribly user friendly, nor does it seem much incentive is being offered to take part. This is probably reflected in the current numbers asking questions.
If the council has interest in updating this valuable section of meetings, a few easy changes could be made.