I need your help!

In my Annual Plan submissions last year to the Hastings, Napier and Regional Councils, I proposed that these Councils fund live web streaming and online archiving of their full Council and major committee meetings.

This year, both the Hastings and Regional Councils are seeking public comments on this proposal in their Long Term Plans (LPTs). Each has investigated such service, establishing that the costs are minimal – $45k to install and $25k per year to operate for HDC, and $26k to install and $38k per year to operate for HBRC. A tiny, tiny fraction of their public propaganda outreach budgets.

As I said a year ago, I expected some Councillors, even some BayBuzz readers, to react … what are you, nuts?!

But I think the case is clear:

  1. In terms of public information and civic education, easy and convenient access to Council proceedings should be the paramount consideration … far more citizens can participate in local government.
  2. In terms of accountability of elected officials to their constituency… sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Three councils in NZ are already webcasting and archiving their proceedings for ‘on-demand’ online viewing – Taupo District Council,  New Plymouth District Council and Hamilton City Council (and the Auckland Council has put out tenders for the service), in each case significantly increasing public knowledge of Council deliberations.

BayBuzz has received comments from each of the mayors whose Councils are webcast. Here’s what they say:

Mayor Rick Cooper, Taupo – “From my own personal point of view I believe web cam is one of the single most effective tools we now have in our tool box. It records meetings accurately; it helps keep councillor behaviour to an acceptable level; it also helps people who can’t or don’t want to come to meetings see how a decision was reached. Our system archives meetings and if you have a concern about a particular agenda item you can retrieve that item and watch it at your leisure. We seem to fluctuate around 200 people watching live time.”

Mayor Harry Duynhoven, New Plymouth – “We webcast our main council meetings and the Policy Cttee and Monitoring Cttee, excepting obviously the public excluded sections. There has been a modest cost to set up the equipment, but the running cost is minimal. We use internal staff to run the video system and only a small amount of maintenance is needed. To date I think we are the only council doing this and providing the ability to retrieve sections of all meetings on line. This is a very useful feature.” He adds that numbers viewing have “steadily grown”.

Mayor Julie Hardaker, Hamilton – “Hamilton City Council has been live streaming and (archiving) on-demand council meetings since the middle of last year. Our council regarded this as another way of ensuring transparency and also to encourage the public to find out more about what their council is doing. Our council considered various options for this and one of the important features was clarity of image and voice. Feedback from the public has been very positive.”

I’m in the process of tracking down more specific viewing numbers for each Council, but in the case of Lake Taupo, live streaming has ranged from a dozen or so viewers per meeting up to 275. Archived ‘on-demand’ segments are often watched by several hundred unique viewers (972 in the highest instance).

As against that, often I and just one or two others are the only public witnesses to what happens at Council meetings. It’s not a pretty sight! Often Councillors are stunningly uninformed, mired in minutia instead of addressing the big picture, and/or surprisingly petty and parochial. Unfortunately, Councillors have gotten accustomed to operating in this anonymous, unaccountable environment. And the level of deliberation shows.

If you think I’m being harsh, attend yourself. Or, hopefully in the future, watch them online.

One can at least hope that bringing more public witnessing to Councillors’ deliberations might raise the level of discourse. Wouldn’t you try to clean up your act if you knew several dozen or hundred ratepayers might be watching?

Councillors would be less likely to say things they know to be downright untrue or misleading, which I’ve seen too often. They might do more homework. They might not be as likely to dwell on procedure as opposed to substance. They might not be led by the nose by staff as often. They might not spend hours re-arranging parking spaces. They might think twice about dissing (or mis-representing) their neighboring Councils and Councillors.

Indeed, a key benefit of webcasting and archiving meetings might be Councillors and staffs across the region monitoring each other!

Most importantly, you, in your own home and at your own convenience (since all council meetings are during work hours), could watch how your elected officials dealt with fracking, moving your community hall, and spending your ratepayer dollars on really big ticket projects like international hockey fields and sewage treatment plants.

Maybe all this improvement is too much to expect. But I say, let’s give it a try. It’s surely not a budget-buster — in fact, easily absorbed within current public communications budgets.

Nevertheless, the Hastings Council staff has placed the proposal ‘below the line’ in its draft LTP, meaning we need to lobby Councillors to fund the service.

And in the Regional Council, sentiment was mixed when Councillors put the proposal in the draft LTP … some arguing no one would be interested in watching.

So, it’s important that you show your support … right away! Here are the ways you can do that …

  1. Make your own submission on webcasting to HBRC. You have only until May 16here’s the form.
    Or lobby for webcasting by sending an email to: chairman@hbrc.govt.nz
  2. For Hastings, send an email to Mayor Yule at this address: lawrence.yule@hdc.govt.nz
    Formal submissions on the Hastings LPT are closed, but you can still lobby.
  3. Or simply flick me a response to this post: tom@baybuzz.co.nz
    I’ll be verbally presenting to both Councils, and I’ll be happy to note your endorsement of webcasting.

Please support this important measure for transparency and accountability.

Tom Belford

Join the Conversation

3 Comments

  1. I'll be putting one in to your council. I have also requested our (Invercargill City Council) do the same in my LTP submission.

    Minutes can only tell you so much, body language and inflections in the voice give the whole story.

    They'll say it's because of funding but really it's because they'll be held more accountable to the public.

    Maybe they'll prove me wrong;-)

  2. The council should be more transparent in the way they make decisions and be held more accountable to the public.

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