Wellington.Scoop » Workshops undermine local democracy? The mediator opens an investigation
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).”
“Councils must give notice of meetings. They must also provide an agenda and supporting documents at least two days before. Even extraordinary meetings must be organized and reasonable notice must be given. It is important to note that meetings must be open to the public unless there is a good reason under the 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. The public is entitled to make formal requests for information about what happened during these workshops, so accurate accounts are essential. ”
Mr. Boshier says he will also look at the boards’ general approach to notifying and arranging meetings in general.
“This survey is particularly timely. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the adoption of LGOIMA by Parliament. One of the cornerstones of the law is to promote the open and public transaction of business at meetings of local authorities.
“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. Still, I fear it 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 as 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 officials and council staff in these areas.
“I chose these tips for a variety of reasons. Some tips do well. I want to understand how they do this and share their best practices with other councils so we can all learn from this survey.
“I know that local elections are approaching. I would like to clarify that this investigation does not concern the conduct of individual elected officials. I focus on how 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 survey 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.