A PROPOSAL to place greater restrictions on public question time at Bathurst Regional Council meetings should be strongly opposed by the broader community.
It's not an issue that will resonate with many ratepayers because so few ever attend a council meeting or take the opportunity to speak in public question time. But it is an issue that goes to the heart of our local democracy and that's what makes it important.
The proposed changes will both further limit the time members of the public can speak during a meeting and also restrict what can be discussed. And it is the latter of these changes that is most concerning.
Council wants to restrict members of the public to only raising items that appear on that night's agenda, and that is going too far.
It's true the current system - where members of the public can speak for up to five minutes on any topic - is not perfect and it can be frustrating for councillors, council staff, other people in the public gallery and representatives of the local media when individuals choose to use that time to raise the same issue month after month.
But the current system also provides the rare opportunity for individuals and groups to initiate real change in our city, and we should not allow that to be lost.
A case in point is the campaign to have a roundabout installed at the intersection of Suttor, Mitre and Lambert streets in West Bathurst.
That confusing intersection had been a source of angst for motorists for decades and while council would occasionally receive reports on possible solutions, they never ended up going very far.
It was only after West Bathurst residents Kent and Dianne McNab made it their personal mission to have a roundabout installed and committed to raising the topic at every meeting until it happened that we finally got results.
Under the proposed changes they would have had to wait [years] until another report on the intersection appeared in the agenda to raise their concerns.
Centennial Park is another example of residents using public question time to raise an issue of real concern and illustrate to councillors the need for change.
That's how a democracy should work, and if giving these groups a platform to raise real issues of broader community concern means also giving a platform to individuals to raise their own personal grievances, then it is a small price to pay.