Beverley Wakem, the Chief Ombudsman, recently delivered remarks to a conference of “residents groups,” mostly from the Wellington area.

Her remarks provide a very complete and useful explanation of citizens’ rights as provided by key legislation like the Ombudsmen Act and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA). She covers access to information, public meetings, and appeals to the Ombudsmen in great detail.

Recently, I complained (in I’m An Aquarius) about an occasion where the HB Regional Council went into public-excluded deliberations on the stated grounds that this was necessary to enable “full and frank” discussion of the issue at hand.

Interestingly, the Chief Ombudsman makes this comment, discussing circumstances where the public may be excluded from a council meeting: “the public cannot be excluded from a meeting because of a concern to protect the free and frank expression of opinions.” Are you reading this Councillors?!

She also warns against the over-use of “workshops,” quoting earlier Ombudsmen reports:

“…it was noted that local authorities needed to be careful where a ‘workshop’ has been held to discuss an issue, … not [to] create a perception that the matter has been predetermined when the issue is
brought to an open meeting for deliberation and decision.”

And finally, she notes that council-controlled organizations, proliferating throughout local government, are indeed covered by the access to information provisions of the LGOIMA (although not the public meetings provisions).

This is a very useful, authoritative reference piece to download for your files. But don’t let it gather dust … use your citizen rights!

Tom Belford

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