Public could gain access to workshops
Environment Southland will consider whether to open council and staff workshops to the public.
Cr Brian Mason raised the idea at a council meeting yesterday, and was met with a mixture of support and opposition.
Last month Cr Mason took part in a Local Government New Zealand KnowHow webinar on conflicts of interest, and asked whether it was necessary to exclude the public from information-gathering workshops because of concerns about bias and pre-determination.
"They commented that debate at workshops can be very robust, but because the decisions will be made later, pre-determination and bias would not be a factor for concern. They also said that it was of utmost concern that workshops were transparent to the public."
Yesterday, Cr Mason told councillors there were opportunities for the public to be aware of what the council was discussing in workshops.
They would still have standing orders and the option of public excluded, Cr Mason said.
Cr Neville Cook said workshops were a chance for councillors and staff to have "free and frank and open discussion without anyone seen to have pre-determined positions".
Cr Marion Miller said while she understood Cr Mason's viewpoint, the system used at present was excellent.
"The elements we consider in those decisions are often made public anyway," she said.
"I think we are transparent in as much as we can be. I think it is really important to have workshops in the way we do now."
Cr Jan Riddell disagreed, and said there was room for more flexibility.
Some workshops, which were more like training sessions, were unlikely to attract interest from the public, she said.
Opening the workshops could be valuable for making issues such as developing Water and Land 2020 public, she said.
Cr Rowly Currie said transparency was key and he did not see any threats in making workshops public.
"I don't think we will be swamped with people."
Chairman Ali Timms said there was a risk people could show pre-determination and bias, and they did not want to end up in the Environment Court if a decision was seen that way.
She suggested it could be something the chair of each workshop decided on a case-by-case basis.
A Waimakariri council policy on open workshops was shown to councillors, and after some discussion about whether they should discuss the idea in an upcoming governance workshop, the recommendation was made to accept the report in principle and have staff put together a report on parameters and guidelines to be discussed at the next council meeting.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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