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Meeting procedures

Introduction

Well prepared agendas, orderly meetings following your council’s meeting procedures and accurate minutes are important for an efficient, effective and accountable system of local government.

In meetings, councils set their policies and strategic directions, make local laws and adopt corporate plans and budgets.

It is important to make careful and good decisions, as they have legal consequences. Councils can only make decisions that are within their legal authority and must make sure that the decisions are correctly recorded in the minutes.

This page focuses on meetings under the Local Government Act 2009 and Local Government Regulation 2012 for all councils except Brisbane City Council, who follow different processes.

Meeting Dates and Locations

Councils must meet at least once a month, although many larger councils meet more frequently. Each council must publish details of the days and times when both the full council and any standing committees will meet.

Meetings are normally held at one of the council’s central offices, but councillors can decide to hold a meeting somewhere else. As a councillor you can take part in a meeting by teleconference, as long as you can easily hear and be heard by every other person at the same time during the meeting.

Temporary Meeting Format Changes

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of temporary changes have been made to the Local Government Regulation 2012 and the City of Brisbane Regulation 2012 to allow council meetings to occur via phone, teleconference or video conference. Where possible councils must use streaming or other facilities so that the public can observe or hear the meeting at one of the council’s public offices or on the council’s website. During the COVID-19 pandemic it may not be practical for health reasons for the public to come into a council’s public offices or to listen or observe council meetings, and the chairperson has the authority to close the meeting on health and safety grounds. These regulatory provisions expire in June 2021.

Agendas and Notice of Meetings

Councillors must receive written notice of the meeting at least two days before the meeting, unless this is impractical. Councillors in Northern Peninsular Area Regional Council and Torres Strait Islands Regional Council must receive written notice at least four days before the meeting. The written notice will include an agenda of items to be discussed as well as reports or other documents. Well-structured agendas help councillors to make informed decisions that are derived from analysis and constructive debate. They also give the community details about what will be discussed at the meeting and help them to determine if they want to attend.

Preparing for Meetings

When reading the agenda and any reports, councillors must:

  • identify matters of particular interest or matters that could be controversial
  • identify any matters where you might need to ask council officers for more information or help with understanding any complex issues, and contact the chief executive officer (CEO) or mayor for advice before the meeting
  • identify any matters where you have a conflict of interest, and advise the council CEO in writing as soon as practical
  • talk to fellow councillors about their views on the matters to be considered (unless you have a conflict of interest).

Go to your council’s website to find upcoming meeting dates and put time in your calendar to prepare.

Meeting Types

Post-Election Meeting

The first meeting post-election must take place within 14 days after the election results are finalised by the Electoral Commission of Queensland. Items to be discussed at the post-election meeting include:

  • making the ‘declaration of office’ by the mayor and councillors (if they haven’t already occurred)
  • the times of future meetings
  • election of a deputy mayor

Ordinary Local Government Meetings

Ordinary local government meetings are held at least once a month to conduct core business and make decisions.

Committee Meetings

Councils can appoint standing committees to consider and deal with certain issues. For example, some councils may have standing committees for infrastructure matters or development applications. These meetings have similar procedures to ordinary council meetings and they are open for the community to attend. Advisory committees can also be appointed with both councillors and other members who are not councillors to provide advice to full council on issues such as local economic development, planning or environmental matters. Advisory committees can only provide advice and recommendations that are considered for decision by full council or standing committees.

Special Meeting

A special meeting is a local government meeting to discuss a particular matter stated on the notice of the meeting.

Quorum

You should attend all council meetings, and for the whole meeting. If you are unable to attend a particular meeting you should advise the chairperson before the meeting of the reason why you cannot attend, and then seek leave of the council to not attend the meeting. Council must then decide whether to grant leave for a councillor who is absent. Granting a leave of absence is not merely accepting an apology, it is granting permission to the councillor to miss a council meeting. This leave will then be recorded in the minutes.

The minimum number of councillors who must be present for a meeting to proceed is called the quorum, which at a local government is a majority of councillors including the mayor. If the number of councillors is an even number, one-half of the number is a quorum. For example, if there are six elected councillors (including the mayor) the quorum would be any three of those six. There are exceptions to this rule when councillors advise of conflicts of interest.

If a quorum is not present within 15 minutes after the time scheduled for a meeting, the chairperson may adjourn it to a later hour or another day within 14 days of the original meeting date.

Your Council’s Meeting Procedures

Each council can decide how its meetings will be conducted, as long as they are consistent with legislation and the department’s model meeting procedures.

Some councils have very formal meetings that follow approved standing orders, whereas others are less formal. However, there are some basics that councils must follow so that decisions are correctly made and recorded.

Model Meeting Procedures

Refer to the department’s Model Meeting Procedures ( 293.2 KB). These procedures do not deal with all aspects of meeting conduct, only those compulsory topics required to strengthen public confidence in the conduct of councillors in meetings and the conduct of the meetings themselves, for example, procedures for managing conflicts of interest.

If your council does not have its own meeting procedures (which must be consistent with the model meeting procedures), it is taken to have adopted the model procedures.

Standing Orders

Standing orders are written rules designed to keep meetings orderly and efficient. Councils can consider the Best Practice Standing Orders ( 103.3 KB) that councils can choose to adopt or expand upon. You should be familiar with your council’s standing orders.

Motions

A motion is a proposal or question that you can put to council, about which all councillors or committee members make a decision. There are two types of motions, formal motions and procedural motions.

Formal motions require or acknowledge action that has to be carried out. They can also state a view or preferred policy position about an issue. Every meeting will also have some standard formal motions, for example the minutes of the previous meeting should be confirmed and adopted. The chairperson will ask all councillors to vote on the formal motion. This makes a resolution, the formal decision of the council or committee about a motion.

Procedural motions are used to control the conduct of meetings, for example the debate be adjourned, the council finalises the debate and votes on the matter or a motion of dissent in relation to a chairperson’s ruling.

Councils can conduct meetings formally (following rules of debate strictly and making formal motions and resolutions) or less formally (with round table discussions to reach consensus on the motions and resolutions). Councillors need to be mindful that the community expects high levels of transparency around council decisions and councillor conduct.

Proposing Motions

In formal-style meetings, a councillor is required to propose a motion and then another councillor is required to second the motion. Other councillors can propose amendments to the motion, which must be voted on before voting on the final motion.

At less formal style meetings, motions are often developed through discussion and a consensus reached on the wording.

Debating Motions

To reach good decisions, councillors must make sure there is effective debate about the important issues where all councillors have a say. Although the chairperson may feel strongly about an issue, while chairing a meeting they must be neutral.

The chairperson can help make sure discussion about motions is effective using the following methods:

  • encouraging and allowing all councillors to contribute
  • stopping individual councillors from speaking for too long or dominating the discussion
  • where appropriate, proposing motions or amendments to motions that express the views of the meeting
  • inviting councillors to draft their ideas in appropriate form as a draft resolution
  • ensuring that all resolutions and amendments are clear and not able to be easily misinterpreted
  • asking councillors or council officers in the meeting open-ended questions to get more information
  • making sure everyone sticks to the topic at hand and not allowing councillors to personally criticise other councillors
  • making sure that councillors speaking to the meeting can be heard and that there are no background discussions happening at the same time while they are speaking.

Formal and Less Formal Styles

In formal style meetings, the councillor who proposed the motion is given the option of speaking first on the motion. The chairperson then calls on any councillor who wishes to speak against the motion. Councillors alternate speaking for or against the motion until all councillors who want to speak have spoken.

At less formal style meetings, motions are discussed around the table by all councillors. The chairperson must ensure that all councillors are given the chance to speak until no new issues are raised.

Privilege

Unlike federal and state members of parliament, as a councillor you cannot claim privilege or legal immunity from defamation for things you say in council or committee meetings.

Voting Procedures

Voting at meetings is when council makes its decision. The chairperson or another councillor makes a motion, it is seconded and then after debate all councillors vote. The following principles must be applied to the voting process in council meetings:

  • voting must be open (no secret ballots allowed)
  • a decision is made by the majority of the votes of the councillors who are present
  • each councillor present, including the chairperson, has one vote on each matter to be decided
  • if the votes are equal, the chairperson also has a second casting vote
  • if a councillor who is present chooses not to vote (abstains), that vote is counted as a vote against the motion.

Once a collective decision is made, all councillors must abide by the decision. Councillors are free to publicly disagree with the decision afterwards, but they should be respectful and always acknowledge that the decision was agreed by the majority of councillors.

Chairperson’s Casting Vote

Along with all other councillors, the chairperson (normally the mayor except at Brisbane City Council) has an initial vote on each question. If the vote is equal (tied) the chairperson gets a second additional vote, known as a casting vote, and only has a second vote if the vote is tied.

Failed motions

If a vote of council does not pass, this does not mean the opposite decision was made. For example, if council votes on the approval of a development application, but it does not receive a majority of votes from councillors, this does not mean that council has decided to refuse the application.

In that case, to reach a decision, councillors must make a new motion resolving to refuse the application. If this does not occur, the decision may be reconsidered by council at a later date.

Closing Meetings

Full council and committee meetings must be open to the public. Councillors can make a resolution to close a meeting only to discuss the following types of confidential matters:

  • the employment of the council CEO
  • industrial matters affecting employees
  • the council budget or rating concessions
  • legal advice or legal proceedings
  • matters that may directly affect the health and safety of an individual or group
  • matters that if discussed publicly could affect the council’s position in a contract or other negotiation
  • land acquisitions
  • matters that the Commonwealth or Queensland governments require the council to keep confidential.

A council meeting may only be closed to the public under specific conditions:

  • If known in advance the agenda should clearly identify that it will be closed to the public
  • council must make a resolution to close the meeting that must state the matter and an overview of what is to be discussed
  • must take a vote to agree to close the meeting
  • cannot make a decision about the matter while the meeting is closed
  • cannot be closed if the matter does not comply with the business categories as prescribed in section 254J of the LGR
  • must be reopened for a resolution to be voted on.

The minutes must include the resolution made by councillors to close the meeting and a statement about what matters were discussed and the reasons why it was necessary to close the meeting. The statement must specify under what specific section 254J of the LGR or section 242J of the COBR the meeting was closed, and information about what matters were discussed.

Councillors cannot close a meeting just because they wish to avoid political embarrassment or hide things from the community.

Chairing Meetings

The mayor is the chairperson at meetings of the full council (except at Brisbane City Council). If the mayor is not at the meeting, the deputy mayor acts for the mayor and chairs the meeting. If both the mayor and the deputy mayor are not in attendance, then it is up to the remaining councillors to decide who should chair the meeting. Committees can be chaired by anyone appointed by the full council or committee members.

Chairing meetings can be a formal process that strictly follows standing orders or meeting procedures. How formal the meetings are chaired is up to the chairperson in line with the council’s meeting procedures and standing orders.

A chairperson may interpret the rules in a less formal way, but to be effective they must make sure that all councillors follow the behavioural standards in the code of conduct. This means showing respect for the process and for each other to make sure decisions are fair and in the public interest.

Order of Business

It is recommended that councils stick very closely to the meeting agenda and the order of business proposed on the agenda.

The chairperson may decide to change the order of business to make sure that important and urgent matters are discussed. This should be done as per the council’s meeting procedures.

Some standing orders may allow for a ‘mayoral minute’ or ‘chairperson’s report’ if the mayor or chairperson needs to raise an urgent matter. These take priority over other items on the agenda.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Good Chairperson

The chairperson needs to make sure that all councillors follow the code of conduct’s behavioural standards for councillors and that every councillor is included in all discussions and decisions. All councillors must have an opportunity to speak, and no councillor or group of councillors should be allowed to dominate.

Each councillor brings to the meeting their own individual personalities, strengths, skills and values. Through skilful use of meeting procedures an experienced chairperson can create a strong and co-operative decision-making forum.

The chairperson should be:

  • fair and not biased
  • firm but friendly
  • confident but considerate
  • tactful and courteous
  • knowledgeable about procedure and policy.

Responsibilities of the Chairperson

The responsibilities of the chairperson include:

  • ensuring the meeting is properly run and has a quorum
  • ensuring the agenda is well prepared and provided to all councillors two days before the meeting
  • ensuring councillors have a way of discussing views and ideas on key issues before the meeting
  • ensuring the meeting discussions are orderly and respectful
  • encouraging councillors to speak and clearly explain their views so that everyone’s different

views can be explored

  • sticking to the agenda, and keep discussions on topic and within reasonable time limits
  • making sure proposed resolutions and amendments follow correct procedures
  • dealing with any unsuitable meeting conduct of councillors
  • maintaining the overall public interest, for example by only closing a meeting when legally allowed under legislation.

How the Chairperson can Make Sure Decisions are Respected and Properly Handled

The chairperson can make sure decisions are respected and properly handled by:

  • deciding on ‘points of order’ and other matters that arise
  • putting relevant questions to the meeting and conduct a vote
  • clearly declaring the result of all votes
  • making sure a division is held if requested by a councillor and that all councillors’ votes are
  • taken so that they can be recorded in the minutes
  • making sure the meetings are being correctly recorded for the minutes
  • adjourning the meeting if needed
  • declaring the meeting closed when all business is complete.
  • The chairperson is carrying out a legal responsibility under legislation to manage and lead the meeting. If a chairperson behaves inappropriately it is a serious breach of the trust placed in them and may be misconduct.

Maintaining Order

The chairperson must make sure all councillors can exercise their right to participate in the meeting. The chairperson should stop any disruptive behaviour or unsuitable meeting conduct from councillors straight away. If a councillor starts to be disruptive, the chairperson can keep the meeting on track by using a calm tone of voice and directing the meeting back to the purpose of the discussion.

The chairperson can suggest taking a break if it could help stop a meeting from becoming disruptive. The chairperson can do this by formally stating that the meeting is adjourned and physically getting out of their chair. When the meeting restarts, councillors must then decide whether to proceed with business or postpone the discussion to a later meeting.

If an individual councillor is being disruptive, the chairperson can make an order that the councillor is demonstrating unsuitable meeting conduct and is reprimanded, that they must leave the meeting or be removed if they do not leave.

The meeting procedures and standing orders provide the rules and directions which guide meeting procedure and debates to which the chairperson is responsible for applying at meetings. Councillors must respect the chairperson’s directions when they are undertaking the presiding member role.

Meeting Minutes

Minutes are the official record of discussions and the decisions made at local government meetings. As a legal record and a public document, they are some of the most important records of a local government.

The chairperson is responsible for supervising the CEO’s recording of the minutes of the meeting. However, all councillors are responsible for ensuring minutes are accurate and vote on whether to confirm minutes from the previous meeting at each new council or committee meeting.

Therefore, councillors need to be aware of the requirements for minutes and make sure that they are transparent and clear.

The minutes of each meeting need to:

  • be an accurate record of the decisions made at the meeting
  • be concise and clear
  • follow a regular, easy-to-read format.

The minutes do not need to be an exact verbatim transcript of proceedings unless the council resolves that this is needed.

The most important requirement is that all decisions (resolutions) made by councillors are clear.

Other Minutes Requirements

Minutes must include the following:

  • any document or report related to an item that was used at the meeting, unless it was previously made public with the agenda
  • the names of councillors or committee members present at the meeting
  • for any vote where a division is called, the names of all councillors voting and how they voted
  • details of any material personal interests or conflicts of interest raised and how they were managed
  • reasons for decisions about contracts that are inconsistent with a recommendation or advice given by a council employee where the contract is for more than $200,000 (excluding GST) or one per cent of the council’s net rate and utility charges (whichever is greater)
  • reasons for decisions where the decision is different to the policy or approach normally followed by the council.

Draft minutes of all meetings must be accessible to the community at the council office and online within ten calendar days after each meeting, and then immediately available after being adopted.

Reasons for Decisions

Following a decision of council, the CEO and their staff will implement the decision. As such it is critical that the wording of a council decision is sufficiently clear so that the CEO and other employees understand what to do but also, so the community knows what to expect.

Therefore, after discussing an issue the council should vote on draft motions that will be accurately recorded in the formal minutes of the meeting. Resolutions should contain sufficient detail so that a person reading the minutes knows exactly what council decided.

In addition, the community also needs to understand the reasons for council’s decisions. Where council accepts the recommendations of a report from its employees the report can form part of the minutes. This allows the community to understand the reasons used by council in making its decision.

Where council decides to not accept the recommendations in a report, council should ensure it explains the reasons for the decision in the minutes.

As well as recording decisions in the minutes, council will often have to notify stakeholders directly in other ways including correspondence, on its website, in the media or in person.

Adopting Minutes

The minutes of a meeting must be confirmed at a subsequent meeting and signed by the chairperson. The minutes are adopted by a motion, not a procedural resolution. This means they must have a mover, seconder and be voted in the meeting to be adopted.

You should read the minutes carefully before the meeting to ensure they are an accurate record of the decisions of the meeting.

You can move amendments to the minutes to make sure they accurately reflect what occurred at the meeting, but you are not allowed to engage in any other further discussion about the matters that were discussed. You can vote to confirm the minutes even if you were not present at the previous meeting or if you had a prescribed or declarable conflict of interest in a matter at that meeting.

Once the minutes have been adopted, they cannot be changed. If an error is found in the minutes at a later date, the correction can be noted in a new resolution passed by the council but the minutes are not actually changed to incorporate the resolution.

Meeting Conduct

As elected representatives, all councillors have an equal voice in decisions. Councillors are required to participate in local government meetings, policy development and decision-making for the benefit of the local government area and to be accountable to the community for the local government’s performance.

In a meeting, as always, you must keep in mind the local government principles and always follow the standards of behaviour set out in the code of conduct.

Unsuitable Meeting Conduct

If a councillor engages in conduct that is against a behavioural standard of the code of conduct during a meeting, that is known as unsuitable meeting conduct. The chairperson should deal with this immediately, by following the meeting procedures. Sometimes this may mean the chairperson has to make a negative ruling on the councillor or order some form of discipline against the councillor as a response. The chairperson has the power to do this and should exercise it if councillors are displaying unsuitable meeting conduct.

A councillor may voice their opinion but they must respect the other councillors and when a councillor does not heed the mayor’s requests and warning and continues to engage in unsuitable meeting conduct the councillor can be ordered to leave the meeting for the remainder of the meeting.

Suspected Inappropriate Conduct

There are a number of forms of ‘inappropriate conduct’ under the code of conduct. For example, if the chairperson orders a councillor to leave a meeting and they refuse, this is could be classed as inappropriate conduct. It is dealt with at the next council meeting where the other councillors will determine if it is inappropriate conduct as per the meeting procedures and investigation policy. Another example is if a councillor repeats unsuitable meeting conduct and is given orders by a chairperson three times in one year this becomes unsuitable meeting conduct.

You can find out more information about conduct matters on the code of conduct page or councillor complaints framework page.

Conflicts of Interests

When considering or making council decisions, you must take actions to deal with conflicts of interest. It is a councillor's responsibility to advise of any conflicts on matters to be discussed at council or committee meetings.

When you are aware of a conflict of interest you must immediately inform the meeting and stop participating in any decision and follow the required procedure depending if it is a conflict of interest.

The laws for conflicts of interest are in place to make sure that all council decisions are transparent and the community can have confidence that councils are always making decisions that are in public’s best interests.

In a meeting you must notify the meeting of any COIs you have in the matters or reports that are going to be discussed. You have to give the chairperson of the meeting full details of the COI and this is then recorded in the minutes.

If you have a prescribed conflict of interest, you must exclude yourself from the matter by leaving the meeting room (including any public viewing area) while the matter is being discussed and return only when the matter is finished is compulsory and must be strictly followed.

If you have a declarable conflict of interest you will have two options:

  • if you cannot be impartial, you should completely exclude yourself from the decision-making process and leave the meeting
  • If you believe you can stay and be impartial, the final decision about whether you can stay is not up to you, it must be decided by a vote of the other councillors.

The other councillors may decide that you must leave the meeting, or they may decide that you can stay and participate in the decision.

More Information

For more information:

Last updated: 23 Sep 2022