‘Too-long’ council meetings cause concern in Hedland

Headshot of Laura Newell
Laura NewellNorth West Telegraph
Town of Port Hedland Cr Camilo Blanco.
Camera IconTown of Port Hedland Cr Camilo Blanco. Credit: Tom Zaunmayr/RegionalHUB

Concerns have been raised about the effective functioning of the Town of Port Hedland when it comes to council meetings.

Among the worries officials and councillors raised with the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries during a visit in February were several relating directly to council meetings.

The department elucidated those concerns in a letter to the town last month.

They included concerns council meetings had become too long; that there had been inappropriate use of council member question time during meetings, as well as member questions outside of question time (during debate); and questions raised over the appropriateness of council member motions.

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Cr Camilo Blanco took the allegations surrounding these particular concerns rather personally in Wednesday’s ordinary council meeting, claiming when it came to asking too many questions he was the “main culprit”. But he added many of the matters raised in the letter had been highlighted before his time on the council.

Deputy Mayor Ash Christensen said in his view, the letter didn’t single any one person out and rather it was very “open ended”.

However, a look at the town’s recorded council meetings shows the length of meetings, while varying wildly from month to month, has seemed, on average, to increase since Cr Blanco’s election in October.

February 2023’s meeting lasted one hour and 10 minutes, while this February’s was just one hour and five minutes. However, the council’s November meeting ran for more than 4½ hours, with December’s ballooning to nearly six hours. March and April’s meetings stood at more than three hours, while this week’s lasted for 2¾ hours.

This may continue to be a theme, as Cr Blanco declared in Wednesday’s ordinary meeting — during which he spoke at length on nearly every agenda item — he would no longer attend agenda briefing sessions. This was a move Cr Christensen declared was counterintuitive to Cr Blanco’s stated aims for his time on council.

“I’m saddened to hear that you will no longer come to briefings,” Cr Christensen said. “That in itself will keep lending itself to a longer and longer public meeting.

“Half the questions you asked tonight, believe it or not, were asked and challenged at the very briefing that you didn’t attend.”

Briefing sessions are used to inform elected members about items of business that are to be presented and discussed at the following council meeting.

While they are recorded, they are not live streamed — something Cr Blanco said he felt gave protection should allegations be made against him, particularly with regard to concerns raised in a letter from the Department of Local Government to the council.

“I’m not coming to any more briefings,” he said. “Because there is a couple of statements in this (letter) that suggest staff may be stressed or it’s going to be a bad working place for them because questions are going to be asked, you know, answers needed on the stuff that’s been requested by council members.

“So that being the case, I would rather just do it in the council meetings, OK. So then everyone can see what’s going on and I don’t have to worry about stepping over the line or getting breaches or people assuming that I’m doing the wrong thing.

“So I would much rather just come to the council meetings where we’ve got evidence of what is going on and how I actually relate to the council and what I talk about.”

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