Secret workshops abolished
Tauranga City Council’s former habit of holding secret workshops and briefings attended only by city councillors and staff has been abolished by the new council.
In setting the standing orders for the new council at the first meeting last week, councilor Rick Curach’s move to include workshops as public meetings with their times posted on the city council website was unanimously supported.
Rick emailed councillors and staff before the meeting about the proposed amendment.
By law, as conveyed in standing orders, workshops can be either open to the public or closed. Workshops are not meetings and cannot be used to either make decisions or come to agreements that are then confirmed without the opportunity meaningful debate at a formal meeting.
The previous council habit of using workshops to supply information to councillors out of the public eye was a source of constant criticism by some ratepayers, saying it was a bad look giving the impression the council was doing ‘secret deals’ behind closed doors.
In future workshops will be advertised on the city council website in the schedule of meetings. They will be regularly scheduled, and cancelled if they are not required, in the same way that hearings dates are.
The 2010-13 Tauranga City council used to hold open workshops, but that was changed for the 2013-16 council.
Rick believes the workshops were taken out of the public eye because they had become a venue for personal attacks in the then inharmonious council.
“The council before the last one, the council elected in 2010 was a divided council,” says Rick, speaking afterwards.
“I think what happened there, because it was a divided council, public workshops were informal where people could say what they want basically - which sort of invited members to attack each other.
“It was pretty rough and the press reported in and probably enjoyed reporting it. And so what happened was the incoming council saw the open workshops as a thing that caused the negative public perception about council because of what was reported in terms of councillor behavior.
“And I suppose they felt that by closing the doors would allow them to have the free and frank discussion without too much negativity going out. And I can understand that.”
The last council, the 2013-16 council was very harmonious, says Rick. If they had opened the doors to the workshop sessions he doesn’t think there would have been an issue because they would not have fought.
“We wouldn’t have had the scraps that we had in the council beforehand.”
Now the councillors will be able to have full and frank debate without the infighting. Most of the information presented to the workshops particularly over the series concerning council buildings could have been presented to the public at the time, says Rick.
A down side of doing all the discussion in workshops was councillors were all talked out by the time they came to the formal meetings, says Rick.
“We actually used to say to ourselves to make sure that we actually do say stuff in the public meeting so people can understand how we came to that decision. But of course that’s difficult to regurgitate a lot of that sort of stuff.
“I’m looking forward to going back to what we used to have which was a very open council, but with none of the crap that used to happen before.”