Se­crecy rules used to suit coun­cil needs

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By JAMES CHIPP

Porirua City Coun­cil has gen­er­ally been be­hav­ing it­self when ex­clud­ing the public from its meet­ings.

Com­pared to some other coun­cils around the Welling­ton re­gion, the Porirua coun­cil has fol­lowed the rules well on the 10 oc­ca­sions in its 14 meet­ings that it has ex­cluded the public.

Coun­cils are obliged to con­duct some busi­ness in pri­vate and the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Of­fi­cial In­for­ma­tion and Meet­ings Act 1987 stip­u­lates when that should hap­pen and what prac­tices should be fol­lowed when they do.

The first prin­ci­ple of the act is that in­for­ma­tion must be avail­able un­less there is good rea­son for with­hold­ing it.

When coun­cils do ex­clude the public, they are obliged to cite the rea­son for do­ing so, the sec­tion of the act they are re­ly­ing on and ‘‘state the gen­eral sub­ject of each mat­ter to be con­sid­ered’’.

Porirua gave the sub­jects for dis­cus­sion on all but one oc­ca­sion.

On Fe­bru­ary 26 one of the sub­jects given was min­utes, with no more de­tail.

Coun­cil spokes­woman Moana Wy­att said the coun­cil’s prac­tices met the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Act guide­lines ex­cept one in­stance un­der a tem­po­rary manager. ‘‘We now do dis­close,’’ she said. The coun­cil in the Welling­ton area most likely to shut it­self be­hind closed doors last year was Up­per Hutt (seven times in seven meet­ings) and South Wairarapa (five times in 14 meet­ings) was the least.

Up­per Hutt City Coun­cil also of­fered the most min­i­mal state­ment about what it was kick­ing peo­ple out to dis­cuss.

Sub­jects last year in­cluded ‘‘Ap­proval of min­utes’’, ‘‘ Doc­u­ments to Laid Upon the Ta­ble’’, ‘‘Com­mit­tee Re­ports’’ and ‘‘ Gen­eral busi­ness’’ with no elab­o­ra­tion.

Carter­ton Dis­trict Coun­cil ex­cluded the public from its meet­ings 10 times, of­ten with vague ex­pla­na­tions of the sub­jects for dis­cus­sion.

Coun­cil cor­po­rate ser­vices manager Marty Se­bire said there was no re­quire­ment un­der the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Act to spec­ify the gen­eral sub­ject for dis­cus­sion.

Some other coun­cils were far more forth­com­ing.

Both Welling­ton City and Welling­ton Re­gional Coun­cil were to­tally trans­par­ent about sub­jects for non­pub­lic con­sid­er­a­tion.

Welling­ton City Coun­cil went into non-public ses­sion just four times and gave a clear ex­pla­na­tion each time, in­clud­ing an oc­ca­sion when coun­cil­lors were to dis­cuss a re­port to a non-public meet­ing ses­sion.

The re­gional coun­cil ex­cluded the public al­most as fre­quently as Up­per Hutt – 14 times from 16 meet­ings – and the agen­das gave the gen­eral sub­ject for dis­cus­sion ev­ery time.

Coun­cil demo­cratic ser­vices manager Fran­cis Ryan said the con­sul­tant who had ad­vised the coun­cil on its meet­ing pri­vacy prac­tices was now em­ployed in the Om­buds­man’s of­fice.

‘‘That per­son could scru­ti­nise our pro­cesses if some­one were to com­plain,’’ he said.

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