A month ago BayBuzz wrote here about the Ombudsman calling upon local councils to open their ‘workshops’ — the now-closed sessions where the heavy lifting of council decision-making gets done. He said workshops should be “open by default” — i.e., as a routine matter.
So we asked each of our region’s five councils whether they intended to do this. To ensure no council got out of step, they responded collectively:
“It is very helpful for the Ombudsman to outline specific expectations and guidelines for best practice. We support the “open by default” language and think that we could all definitely do more to pick up some of the best practice guidance given by the Ombudsman.“
I thought, ‘Cool, let’s start opening the doors and video streams’. But not to be.
When we saw ‘business as usual’ continuing, precisely in the current window when crucial spending/LTP decisions are being made in still-closed workshops, we pressed the councils to be more specific about their plans. How hard could it be to open the doors and windows and let the sun shine in?
Here are their responses:
From HBRC (Chair Hinewai Ormsby): “The governance team are reviewing the recommendations in light of our own practice ready for implementation changes in the new year. We will likely provide advance notified workshop information.”
From NCC (Mayor Kirsten Wise): “In the new year we will be running workshops open to the public. Papers for these will be available to the public. We have been reviewing the guidance from Ombudsman and we endorse the findings.”
From HDC (Craig Cameron, Group Manager Strategy & Development): “Council will be making workshops public from the new year – except in cases where there are, for example, matters of privacy affecting private persons, commercial sensitivities, legal issues etc (essentially using the same rules that allow meetings to be moved into PX). Staff are preparing the website page, documents and reporting forms that will enable this to happen and will be advising the public of this change as soon as the material is ready.”
From CHBDC: (Doug Tate, Chief Executive): “In short, we are just spending a bit of time to get internal mechanisms for briefings/workshops tidied up so as to be ready for the 2024 calendar year and in-line with governance expectations. We are always looking for ways to improve, but we are a small council with a small admin team so it is going to take us a little longer to land the details to make it happen seamlessly.
“At this point, my intention is to continue with our approach to transparency as we have, releasing information as requested or sought and proactively including in Council reports where matters have been workshopped, this as context in any subsequent report. I’ll keep you posted when we’ve got this all sorted – either way the intention is that it will be ahead of the first workshop/briefing planned for February 2024.”
From WDC: No response. But given the weather circumstances up there, we’ll give them a rain check for the time being.
So there you have it. Not exactly rushing into the sunlight, which Councillors and staff might find blinding at first. But appear to be good intentions all around. Next year not that far away … and BayBuzz will be watching.