Last September 6th, BayFM radio here in the Bay requested permission to audiotape occasional sessions of the HB Regional Council.

You might think the Council would embrace this civic gesture with open arms, responding with one word: “Absolutely!” Or, if that’s too terse: “Why yes, of course!”

But no, nothing’s that easy, or transparent, at the Regional Council. It’s been studying the matter — HBRC’s usual course of action — and will continue to do so into January, with the intention of putting the issue before the Strategic Planning & Finance Committee when it meets January 26th.

I can’t wait to see the ‘pros and cons’ paper the staff prepares on this one … after nearly five months of penetrating analysis! For example:

Pro: Ratepayers who work and cannot attend our daytime meetings will be able to listen to our discussions at their leisure, becoming better informed as to the merits of various issues, and more aware of how well we do our jobs and represent them.

Con: Ratepayers who work and cannot attend our daytime meetings will be able to listen to our discussions at their leisure, becoming better informed as to the merits of various issues, and more aware of how well we do our jobs and represent them.

Meantime, an even better example of how to make council deliberations more accessible to the public can be found just over the hills at Lake Taupo … at the Taupo District Council.

That Council videotapes its sessions, and archives them online where anyone in the world can watch at their leisure.

I happened to check the archive today, and at random watched a portion of their December 10 meeting. By sheer coincidence, there was Hawke’s Bay’s own fundraiser extraordinaire, Jenni Giblin (of HB Opera House, Sports Park, HB Museum & Art Gallery fundraising fame), helping two gentlemen make a pitch to the Council for support of an Ice Rink. In living colour. Take a peek (try Part 3).

Videotaping works fine. It’s not Hollywood, or even Bollywood. But it provides a viewable and obviously accurate rendering of what actually transpires.

I don’t expect citizens by the thousands would watch Council videos. But I’ll bet at least some individuals with stakes in matters discussed — water policy & consents, the fate of Venture Hawke’s Bay, rates, holding companies, etc — indeed would. Consequently they’d be better informed and more likely to engage in the decision-making process in a meaningful way.

Knowing that you, as a Councillor, might actually be watched might also do wonders to curb the pettiness that marks so many Regional Council sessions.

The larger point is simply that the Regional Council should see it as their duty to offer the opportunities that today’s technology affords for public education and involvement. Full stop.

It should be a no-brainer for the Regional Council not only to welcome audiotaping (or else get ready to check the pockets of everyone attending its meetings!), but to go a step further and make the necessary — and simple — arrangements (i.e., mount a single video camera on the wall, and create a ‘home’ for the archive on their website) to videotape Council sessions and make them available online.

A no-brainer!

Tom Belford

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  1. In light of the Julian Assange / Wikileaks scenario which showed the world the backroom scuttlebutt of the powerful…it kind of makes the local council's procrastination to" broadcast or not to broadcast..that is the question " seem a tad pathetic really…..what could they talk about that we don't need to know since, i presume, we pay their salaries indirectly.

    Good on Bay FM for trying to at least fulfill it's end of the bargain of being a live and local radio station..more power to them!

  2. It appears to be quite common for Council's to refuse recording (either video or audio or written) of Council meetings. In Dunedin I've seen several attempts but the Council has always refused. The Council's standing orders don't allow it.

    In at least one contentious meeting regarding the new Dunedin stadium a member of public was taken out of a meeting because Councillor's thought he was recording the meeting. Turned out he wasn't, simply checking emails on his phone.

    Given that Parliament is required to record its proceedings via Hansard at least, I think it is long overdue for local authorities to do the same.

  3. Good idea. I certainly believe that as these people are elected by us to make decisions on our behalf they should be more accountable to us. Many of us have asked for the public to be better informed – and not just of the pros (as was the HDC sports park public brainwashing exercise) but with a fair and balanced presentation of both sides of the arguments and an opportunity for us to have time to do our own research and present our own views before decisions are made. Even our protest over the lack of information on the holding co. proposal only gained a reprieve and a one sided case presented. Our research has shown a not so pretty picture.

  4. Absolutely this is a good idea and it should be embraced by the Council as a way to help its constituents be more informed. Local councillors need to take a leaf out of Taupo's book and get with the times! If they can't handle the extra scrutiny, they should not be there.

  5. I guess it comes down to whether a 'public meeting' held in a council owned building constitutes a 'public place'?

    If a council 'public meeting' constitutes a 'public place' then surely no council permission is required to record the meeting, or tape it, or stream it live if it come to that.

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