Wairarapa’s councils are making progress with recommendations from the Chief Ombudsman regarding closed-door meetings.
Last year, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier called for councils to open workshops to the public by default to reduce the perception that critical council decisions are being made behind closed doors after he launched an investigation in response to complaints that this practice is “undermining local democracy”.
“Conducting a great deal of council business behind closed doors, whether through workshops or public-excluded meetings, can have a damaging effect on how open the community perceives a council to be,” Boshier said.
He expected that workshops be open to the public by default and closed only when a good reason existed and that processes are put in place to reconsider releasing public-excluded content for meetings and workshops when the basis for withholding it may no longer apply.
A report to Carterton District Council [CDC] by the council’s corporate services manager, Karon Ashforth highlighted that many of Boshier’s expectations were already met by CDC.
When it came to releasing public-excluded content when the basis for withholding it no longer applied, CDC would look to develop a list of public-excluded meeting topics.
This would provide a prompt for consideration of papers and minted that could be made public at a later date.
When it came to workshops, CDC would look to publish a list of workshop topics and note if workshops were open or closed to the public.
High-level minutes from workshops would also be made available to the public.
South Wairarapa District Council have signalled that progressing Boshier’s recommendations on workshops would “require some democracy support.”
In its November agenda from last year, the council said an outline of the proposed discussion could be promoted via social media or on the council’s website, the workshop could be in public and live-streamed, and any actions, such as requests for further information could be noted, and a record of the workshop be made public.
In Masterton, a council spokesperson said the conversation had started with elected members about “how we can respond in a positive way to the Ombudsman’s recommendations”.
LDR is local body journalism co-funded
by RNZ and NZ On Air.