Council debate over public speaking time

Last updated 08:44 23/01/2014

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Kapiti's mayor says restricting public speaking time will make council meetings shorter and more relevant, but critics say it limits freedom of speech, and will leave voters feeling disenfranchised.

Mayor Ross Church suggested at the last council meeting that people addressing the council during public speaking time be restricted to topics on the agenda. There were 20 public speakers at the meeting.

He has since received 25 formal responses to his suggestion: 18 in favour, three opposed and four offering other options.

"I have had lots of feedback, both ways. Some think it will make meetings shorter, tighter and more relevant, while others believe it is one way to keep people corresponding with the council," Mr Church said.

There were other ways of bringing issues to the council's attention, he said, such as emailing, phoning and using the council's website.

"I am insistent on this council being open, not closing people down. We are trying to encourage people to engage with the council in other ways.

"It is not a case of shutting it down, it is a case of trying to make it work better for everybody," he said.

Another option was to establish informal clinics for people to express their views to a council panel before council meetings.

Coastal Ratepayers United secretary Salima Padamsey said many people had contacted her, nervous that the move would create "more disenfranchising".

Mrs Padamsey said addressing the council during public speaking time was the only way her lobby group, which helped convince the council to review its contentious coastal hazard lines, felt it was heard.

"Do not cut out the public speaking before the other option [clinics] is up and running and working," she said.

Councillor K Gurunathan agreed. "We do not need a sledgehammer to crack this nut."

Councillor Gavin Welsh acknowledged there was a lot of concern about the issue. He stressed that the suggestion was about facilitating a "more free-flowing, less restrictive conversation with the public that can take place outside the formalities of public meeting standing orders".

There was no intention of taking things off the public record, Mr Walsh said.

"Clinics could be recorded and minuted. We will continue getting feedback - if the community doesn't want clinics, I suspect the council will reassess its position and continue with the status quo."

Mr Church said a decision would not be made immediately, but the issue would be raised during public speaking time at today's council meeting.

Wellington City Council restricts public speaking time to issues that are relevant, but not necessarily on the agenda.

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Porirua City Council restricts public speaking at meetings to items on the agenda. At committee meetings, at the discretion of the chairs and chief executive, public speaking is open to all topics.

- The Dominion Post

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