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Councils As Fiefdoms

And while we are talking about secrecy, here is another Stuff/DomPost story by Cathy Strong that should give rise to real concern.

I must say at the outset that I have nothing but full co-operation of our Council's Communication Manager - Laurna White, when it comes to providing answers to OIA requests that I have submitted - answers are provided immediately, or only after a short delay - the 30 day rule has never been pulled on me. I suspect that CEO Rob Williams has been instrumental in ensuring that this consideration has been extended into his term. 

But I am not a professional journo, and am only able to devote a modicum of time to the 'over-sight' role. It still annoys me intensely that our Council continues to use the 'closed-door work-shop' device to hide anything controversial, and bring decisions that have already been made back to Council simply for ratification (Moved: Joe, Seconded: Fred, Passed: Unanimously - end of story.)

There are a limited number of occasions when this may be appropriate for reasons of commercial sennsitivity, but it appears predominantly used to simply protect individual councillors from being publicly identified as being in favour, or opposed to decisions - just go with the majority in other words. If that is the case, then it is a sign a abject gutlessness, but hardly surprising. 

On the other hand, there are mayors, amongst whom ours is probably one who prefer unanimous decision making - certainly the last two before her were in this category, and it was extremely frustrating at times when one realised that it was simply to keep 'dissent' out of the public arena. And there is no doubt that the 'Code of Conduct' is used to keep any expression of dissent inside the walls of 'closed-door' sessions of both work-shops, and 'public-excluded' council sessions, though the latter have generally been used for 'commercial-sensitivity' reasons by my observation - the agenda is open by law (the LGA), and I do keep a close watch on it.

But such is not the case with 'closed-door work-shops', and the article by Cathy Strong does not explain that device particularly well - it really needs to be understood more widely for what it is - ostensibly to enable staff to 'explain background' (and this defined under the LGA), but we all know that that is the least of it. It is where the issues are argued out, and decisions arrived at out of sight. Coming back to Council with motions, and no discussion is not democracy as we can never know the basis for the decision, but with small councils, and weak membership, it is precisely what happens.




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