Councillors in workshops

The June district council meeting. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.

Waipā District Council held another ‘secret’ workshop and briefing day for councillors this week, the second this month and the seventh this year.

One of the items on the agenda was a potential new targeted rate for Te Awamutu, something not discussed at any other council or committee meetings The News has attended in recent times.

Discussions on a contract update for the council-owned Mighty River Domain at Lake Karāpiro, business cases and capital budget were also discussed behind closed doors.

So too was the dog bylaw and policy – something which was still under debate at the Strategic Planning and Policy committee which had been adjourned after submissions were held last week. The re-adjourned meeting was held after the workshop this week.

Jo Gread, Governance Manager.

Governance manager Jo Gread said the matters discussed at the workshop were for “information only”.

“They are being held in a public excluded setting due to the nature of the content which includes commercially sensitive and legally privileged information, and a requirement to protect the privacy of identifiable individuals. The matters will become public when presented at formal meetings,” she said.

The lengths of the other secret meetings through the year are unknown but The News understands two hours is usually allocated for “informal” discussion between councillors themselves and then additional time with the executive team.

In the same period, council meetings where public are not excluded and decisions are made have lasted 34, 32, 21, 56 and 35 minutes. Committee meetings tend to last longer.

There is no formal agenda at many of the workshops/briefings. Comments made subsequently by elected members tend to suggest the discussions allow many of them to form an opinion outside of public scrutiny.

Roy Pilott

This is contrary to the council’s own Standing Orders which caution against workshops where “de-facto” decisions are being made.

The newspaper has lodged a request under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 asking how many of the workshop/briefings have been held since February.

We have also asked for a list of topics discussed.

Editor Roy Pilott, a veteran of more than 45 years covering local government, said while not all information given to councillors could be shared publicly, the use of workshops and/or briefings could result in the media and public struggling to follow decision-making.

That was particularly so when decisions were made with little open debate.

Both the Ombudsman and the Auditor General have cautioned local authorities as the workshops are seen as inconsistent with transparency and openness.

The next Workshop and Briefing Day is on September 12 at 10am, according to the council’s website.

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