Waikato mayors defend closed door meetings

Waikato's mayors have batted off calls for their private meetings to be open to the public, saying ructions over a lack of transparency were unfair.

The Waikato mayoral forum, including 11 mayors and Waikato Regional Council chairman Peter Buckley, met this week to discuss opportunities for shared services between councils.

Forum chairman, Matamata-Piako Mayor Hugh Vercoe, said five proposed work streams, designed to improve co-operation on planning and governance, economic development, roading, water and waste water services, could potentially save ratepayers millions of dollars.

The region's councillors will be briefed on the work programme on March 25 and will be asked to decide how to fund the work.

Details on the work programme have not been made available despite the forum having budgeted $100,000 to explore cost-saving initiatives to date.

Mr Vercoe said more information would be released after the March briefing and defended the forum's closed-door status.

"We're not a decision-making body. We are there to look at various areas that we think should be looked at. Having the public excluded allows us to talk openly and ask dumb questions."

Mr Vercoe also rejected suggestions the shape of Waikato's local government sector was being hammered out in private.

"We're not drawing lines on a map. We're simply trying to decide what it is that local government does and exploring how we can deliver those services better."

But Waikato University political science lecturer Dr Alan Simpson said there were drawbacks to elected members meeting in private, especially on issues that would affect the public.

"There are well-established cases for having closed-door meetings when dealing with commercially sensitive material and personal information. But when you're dealing with issues that are going to affect the public, those arguments are not as strong," he said.

"Here in Hamilton we've got a bit of history where things are done behind closed doors and the public are not informed and I'm thinking of the V8s. When you're talking about future local body relations and agreements I would argue transparency is the better way."

Hamilton-based Labour MP Sue Moroney said she was not satisfied with the way the forum was operating and was still waiting for an invitation to attend a briefing by the forum on its work programme.

The forum met with the Waikato's six National MPs in October.

Ms Moroney said she didn't mind the forum having some discussions behind closed door but they also needed a robust process of consultation with ratepayers.

There is also contention over the forum's title, "Waikato Mayoral Forum", but Mr Vercoe said Local Government Leaders Forum would not have the same impact.

Waikato Times