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Is our democracy transparent?

5 Comments 14 October 2014

Closed to public

Closed to public

Should Local Board ‘workshops’ be open to the public?

I came across this article in Localmatters and it brings up the question I have asked myself regularly  “Why, when a motion is put at WRLB, is there  no debate and usually everyone votes for it?”    The answer is:  they have already ‘workshopped’ it where they discuss, presumably debate, and come to a consensus ready for the meeting open to us.

Open workshops under discussion

“Moves to allow the public and media into Council workshops have stirred up local body representatives, with strong views expressed on both sides. . . . . . 

. . . . Cr Wayne Walker describes the Devonport Takapuna Local Board as “a model for openness and community engagement” and while he and Cr John Watson, together with local board members Greg Sayers, Lovisa Rasmussen and David Cooper are supportive of open workshops, member Lisa Whyte says it will adversely affect the full and frank exchanges between members and staff and cost ratepayers more because of the need for Minutes.

“For some elected members, the presence of the public or press changes behaviours and not always for the better,” she says. “The approach Devonport Takapuna is taking is more bureaucratic and, while open, I prefer our meetings to be cost effective.” “

The article continues with a quote from Mr Sayers, Deputy Chair of Hibiscus & Bays Local Board

“That’s a great shame as it’s really an excuse for under performance of the Council officer,” he says. “Also decisions are effectively being constructed in the workshops and ratified at the business meetings. That’s fundamentally wrong in terms of public transparency and accountability of local government decision-making. Elected members should not use a workshop as a shield from public scrutiny.”

He says although Mike Cohen says Council staff have found increasing openness beneficial, he suspects staff will try to prevent the idea spreading to other local boards as it means a change to current work practices.”

I believe our local rag The Western Leader lets us down badly with good journalism.  Read the above article in the Localmatters publication. Some real journalism!

Your thoughts ?

Your Comments

5 Comments so far

  1. Bastian says:

    Predetermined outcomes and manufactured consensus. Anti-democratic to its core.

  2. Nice says:

    Well that seems a no brainer. YES! Workshops should be open. And excellent article from Local Matters. We need the local papers to cover local politics, so a wider audience can be informed on local political issues.

  3. Phelan Pirrie says:

    Like Greg I agree that workshops should be open, there are only very exceptional occasions where Local Board business should be confidential – for example for commercial reasons. The system adopted by Devonport does seem to have created more meetings and more meetings are not good for quick efficient decision making and Council suffers from being slow and inefficient.
    Rodney Local Board has just changed from a ‘portfolio’ system which meant that portfolio meetings and workshops were held in private with Buisness meetings often feeling like a rubber stamp exercise. We have replaced 18 portfolios with two committees and those meetings will be held in public.
    We were not able to wean staff off workshops as they assert that they need to be able to present information to elected members in an environment where they can do so freely… After a year of being a Board member I am not at all convinced by this argument, however reform cannot be achieved overnight and we have taken a different path from Devonport that reduces closed workshops and increased transparency.
    My deep concern about workshops was confirmed by the report on the rates debacle in Mangawhai and it was suggested that part of he reason for the poor decision making was an over reliance on closed workshops.

  4. Penny says:

    Nice. Super clear communication from Rodney Local Board and Media about what was happening at Council- where the money had been allocated and what reallocations were made , and which groups received the funding. Transparency. Liking your work, Phelan.

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