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Public Excluded

The ability of councils to exclude the public (and media!) from meetings is set out in section 48 (1) of the Local Government Official Information Act 1987, and in Appendix A of the NZ Model Standing Orders. It is meant to be used sparingly and with considerable discretion. After all, it we who pay the bills and the temptation for councillors, once elected to consider themselves exempt from obligation to keep rate-payers properly informed, other than when they seek to make political pronouncements during debate is almost overwhelming. This happens more often than you may think, and this Council is no exception to the rule.

But there are certain steps that need to be taken before the public can be excluded. These are set out is clauses 1 to 5 of Appendix A of the Model Standing Orders, and generally are designed to enable the business of the council to be conducted in private for the purpose of protecting individuals and avoiding commercial and legal prejudice.  It is not meant to provide a means by which staff, councillors or others are able to avoid embarrassment.

There is a process that must be followed in order for any item to be placed in this category that involves a declaration being made as to the reason and the grounds for such a procedure being adopted, and the passing of an appropriate resolution. This is a process that the Auditor General follows closely, and many is the council that has been upbraided for not having followed this process in accordance with the law, and for not providing insufficient reason for the public to be excluded.

This is a very important protection for all concerned, and it is very disturbing to note that there is reason to believe that our Council is slipping into a rather cavalier approach to the Standing Orders on the matter. Witness:

On Wednesday, our Council decided to go into 'public exclkuded' to discuss the 'National Online Consenting Update'. This was ostensibly on the grounds of 'commercial sensitivity' - a classification that is difficult to imagine in regard to this particular matter, but I will not argue the toss on it.

Today, and 'Extraordinary General Meeting' was called on 20 hours notice to discuss the Whitianga Sports Facility. At the last moment, media representatives were advised that the meeting was to be Public Excluded on the grounds of 'commercial sensitivity'.

Since this facility has cost rate-payers in excess of $13m so far one could be forgiven for imagining that any business surrounding this facility was deeply in the public interest, and that all business surrounding it should be out in the open for all to see.

All I can tell you is that we (Robert Jeffares and myself) waited from 10am until 1pm when I gave up and went home having listened to much shouting from inside the Council Chamber. Clearly there is a major conflagration going on that was not for us to witness, and it must be going to cost a great deal of money. One can only assume that there is another massive 'over-run' in the wind, and confidentiality was needed in order to resolve how it is to be paid for (Whitianga rates are already on a hiding to nothing over recent shortfalls, and major apparently unstoppable capital works projects that cannot be made a 'district' responsibility.

The only other possibility may relate to the long threatened 'squaring of accounts' with Waterways who have long held that this would be necessary when the final bills were in on the sports-ground, allowing comparison with the Development Contribution credits that they were allowed at the outset. If this is the case then there may be substantial litigation on the way, and certain people on the Council may need to carefully consider whether a conflict arises.

We were told that there would be a statement made at the end of the meeting that I will bring to you on the following post ASAP. If you live in Whitianga - expect the worst.




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Reader Comments (2)

To adhere to the LGA 2002 instructions on how to go into 'public excluded' usually 'gives the game away' if they are correctly followed. Staff are the ones who set 'public excluded' up and it only needs councillors to disagree instead of moving and seconding the recommendation to go into 'comm.' It takes bravery to attempt this course. Staff have a 'formula' reason that is used again and again which hides real reasons. This can be found usually at the end of order papers.

December 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeter H Wood,

Bill- line 17 has two letters too many??

December 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeter H Wood,

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