New council policy to keep awkward surprises at bay
Christchurch city councillors have added a "no surprises" clause to the charter that outlines the way they should conduct themselves and govern the city.
The clause is one of the outcomes of the $80,000 communications audit that showed communication lines between councillors and management had begun to close because some council staff did not trust elected members to keep information confidential.
They feared that if they gave councillors sensitive information they would use it for political purposes.
As a result, the audit found, some councillors were left feeling as though they were at the end of a "policy development food chain that they had little input into or knowledge of prior to papers arriving in their pigeonholes to read, discuss and vote on at council meetings".
The audit said they felt decisions were rushed, with limited councillor or public understanding of the issues involved.
The council hopes to change that through its no surprises policy.
Under the policy, council chief executive Tony Marryatt and council staff must "take all reasonable measures" to ensure that the mayor and councillors are informed early of any matters that are likely to affect them or prove controversial.
The elected members, for their part, must take steps to ensure council staff and other councillors are aware of concerns they want to raise at the council table.
Important decisions are to go to the full council as early and with as much information as possible, and council staff are to report regularly on important projects so that councillors are kept abreast of emerging risks.
Cr Yani Johanson, chairman of the council's community, recreation and culture committee, said adoption of the no-surprises policy represented a significant step forward for the council.
"I think this is a positive step in setting out some clear expectations of how governance and management can work together in a more productive fashion," he said.
"Hopefully, it enables elected members to be more included in what is going on and being able to contribute at a strategic level earlier in the decision-making processes."
The no-surprises policy was one of 13 recommendations made by the authors of the communications audit. Councillors are still considering how they will tackle the other recommendations.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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