“CAN you hear me, Cr O’Neill?” Self proclaimed Council watchdog and regular meeting attendant Peter Raft was making a point at the most recent gathering.
Cr O’Neill could hear, at least when Mr Raft leaned into the microphone, but it was the public gallery behind that he was worried about.
Mr Raft says acoustics in the Council Chamber are ‘woeful’ and the community is missing out.
In an open forum address last week, Mr Raft said Council encouraged members of the public to sit in on meetings.
“No problem there,” he said.
“We note that there are more than adequate acoustics surrounding the podium area. We also note that all councillors have excellent acoustics right in front of them, Mr Mayor. No problem there (either).”
The media too were close to the action, though Mr Raft possibly overrated the primacy of this spot.
“(But) what about Council’s invited guests, the ratepayers?” he continued.
“These are the people who pay for everything and I would suggest that Council give their paymasters the courtesy that they deserve and to let them hear what’s going on because they deserve it just as much as those others just mentioned.”
He said more speakers were needed for the benefit of the community and asked when they’d be forthcoming.
“Speakers? We have plenty of speakers,” Mayor Geoff Kettle said, mistakenly thinking Mr Raft was referring to the 15 people listed to address open forum that night.
“Oh, those speakers,” he replied upon realising.
Asked whether people up the back could hear him, Cr Kettle received a mixed response. One man said he could, but a voice from the rear differed.
“I support what Mr Raft just said. I can’t hear either,” Tempe Hornibrook Longmire replied.
In a subsequent letter to the editor she wrote that even when the sound was turned up slightly, “ Cr Sturgiss mumbled, Cr Walker inaudibly often commented and Cr O’Neill was audible at times, making it a guessing game as to the details of the debate.”
Council had allocated funds in last year’s budget to improve acoustics but was set aside to balance the numbers.
“We’re looking at it from a number of angles (now),” Mr Berry said.
“Some councils use webcam, improved microphones can also be considered but the room’s shape is a difficulty and the technology we use is not the best.”
As it was microphones were picking up the dominant sound, so if paper was rustling it blocked out the main speaker.
Staff are exploring a system used by other councils whereby the speaker presses a microphone button when they have the floor.
Mr Berry said although it was a public meeting, audible communication between the councillors was uppermost.
“It’s going to take time (to find a suitable system),” he said “We do know there are problems. The gallery is important but the primary focus is councillors and that they can hear each other.”
Mr Berry said councillors would likely consider improved acoustics in the chamber as part of the upcoming budget.
The chamber’s layout was something of a bugbear for former councillor Neil Penning. In March, 2012 he told a meeting he couldn’t fathom why councillors would want to sit with their back to the gallery.
“It’s rude and disengages the public,” he said at the time.
But his push for a $10,000 redesign based on the “tried and true Westminster system,” didn’t pass first base. It would have placed the mayor, councillors and senior staff in a horseshoe shape, facing the gallery.
Mr Raft said the roof’s shape, dipping from very high above councillors to low over the gallery made the acoustics worse.
He’s been pushing his barrow for several years, suggesting in a 2010 Goulburn Post letter that perhaps a “local sparky” could rectify the problem.
“…And the sooner the better for all those concerned,” he wrote at the time.