Ombudsman testing concerns Council workshops undermine local democracy
The chief ombudsman has launched an investigation into concerns that councils are undermining local democracy by using “workshops” to discuss issues and make decisions behind closed doors.
Mr Boshier is taking action after raising concerns about the use of workshops and other informal meetings by local authorities and how some exclude the public from meetings in general.
“There is nothing to prevent councils from holding workshops, but I am concerned at reports that some councils may be using them to evade their responsibilities under the Official Community Information and Meetings Act 1987 (LGOIMA).”
“Boards must give notice of meetings. They must also provide an agenda and supporting documents at least two days in advance. Even extraordinary meetings must be arranged and reasonable notice must be given. Importantly, meetings must be open to the public, unless there are good reasons under LGOIMA to exclude them.”
Mr. Boshier says these meeting requirements cannot be avoided simply by calling what is really a “meeting” a “workshop”.
“The public can become suspicious if councils repeatedly use closed workshops or informal meetings to discuss issues.”
Boshier says councils should be aware that holding workshops could give the impression that an issue has already been decided before it comes to a public meeting for debate and decision.
“I am aware that another barrier to openness and transparency is the quality of note taking and record keeping at these informal workshops. official reports on what happened during these workshops.
Mr. Boshier says he will also look at the boards’ general approach to notifying and arranging meetings in general.
“This inquiry is particularly timely. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the adoption of LGOIMA by Parliament. One of the foundations of the law is to foster the open and public conduct of business at local authority meetings. “
“Local government meetings must be open to all unless councilors pass a formal resolution to exclude the public.”
“I am aware that some councils may apply the law incorrectly when making these formal resolutions.”
“Local bodies are not allowed to exclude the public from meetings so that they can hold ‘free and frank’ discussions behind closed doors. Yet I fear that will happen.”
“Councillors are elected to give voice to the communities they serve. They should feel free to express their opinions in the same way that vigorous exchanges occur in the debating chamber of Parliament.”
Mr Boshier said the investigation, using his powers under the Ombudsman Act, would focus on eight councils across the country. The tips are:
- Rotorua Lakes Council
- Taranaki Regional Council
- Taupo District Council
- North Palmerston City Council
- Rangitikei District Council
- Waimakariri District Council
- Timaru District Council
- Clutha District Council
“The survey will cover a mix of councils of different sizes, both urban and rural. I will be surveying the public, elected members and council staff in these areas.”
“I chose these boards for a variety of reasons. Some boards are successful. I want to understand how they do this and share their best practices with other boards so we can all learn from this survey.”
“I am aware that local elections are approaching. I would like to clarify that this investigation does not concern the conduct of individual elected officials. I am focusing on the way meetings and workshops are organized and administered in the local government sector. “
Agency and public survey
To facilitate investigations, the Chief Ombudsman will seek input from the public, councils and their staff. Throughout the surveys, areas of good practice can be identified and, where weak, suggestions for improvement can be made.
The survey examines board processes and people’s experiences with them. They are not designed to reopen individual cases. For a new complaint, the usual procedure for contacting the Québec Ombudsman remains. The inquiry is open until August 26, 2022 and is available at the following link:
Investigations will be conducted under the Ombudsman Act 1975. Under this law, an ombudsman can investigate the administrative acts, decisions, omissions and recommendations of public sector bodies and formulate an independent opinion on whether any aspect of their conduct was wrong, unreasonable. or contrary to law.
The LGOIMA specifies the obligations of local authorities in terms of requesting administrative information, requesting a Land Information Memorandum (MIL) and managing municipal assemblies. The Chief Ombudsman’s investigations will relate to the administration of the meetings.
The surveys will focus on current practices, and will look at meetings and the use of workshops, briefings and informal meetings held since the start of this legislature (12 October 2019). Councils will have the opportunity to comment on the Chief Ombudsman’s provisional opinion. The final notice will incorporate comments and reactions from the councils.
The investigation will include examining the supporting administrative structures, leadership and culture, policies, processes, practices, decision making and record keeping of the Council. It is expected that the results of the surveys will be published in mid-2023.
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