At the first meeting of the new Devonport-Takapuna Local Board last night, the board passed a Notice of Motion, moved by new local board chair Aidan Bennett and by deputy chair George Wood, to return the local board to closed workshops.
During the last term of the local board, the board had operated with a policy of open workshops and were one of two of Auckland’s 21 local boards to do so. Kaipātiki Local Board is now the sole local board running open workshops.
Open workshops allowed members of the public or media to attend and observe workshop discussions between board members and various staff from across council, including CCOs and some community organisations. The decision to close workshops means that future workshops of the board will now be closed to the public and media.
What are local board workshops?
Local board workshops are weekly discussions of the local board, held for the purpose of providing board members with information on current or upcoming projects at an early stage by a range of council, CCO or community partners.
Workshops provide an opportunity for board members to not only receive information but to ask questions and discuss areas of interest or concern.
Local boards do not pass resolutions or make decisions at their weekly workshops. All decision making occurs at their monthly business meetings, where the public continue to have the right to attend and address the board on matters of interest or concern.
Business Meetings and Community Forums
The decision by the board to close the board’s weekly workshops does not change the public’s access to the board’s monthly business meetings or to its bi-monthly community forum meetings instituted by the two previous local boards.
Monthly business meetings will continue to be held on the third Tuesday of each month and remain open to the public and media. The public has the right to speak at these meetings, and media to report on debate and decisions made by the board.
Reasons for changes to workshops
Devonport-Takapuna Local Board Chair Aidan Bennett says workshops must function in a way that facilitates the best exchange of information possible to enable members to perform their governance role effectively.
“My belief, and this is shared by George and Toni, is that having totally open workshops all the time, has resulted in good information and debate being compromised,” says Bennett.
“Having open workshops means that frank and honest debate is stymied, and this is absolutely essential to reaching understanding and compromise between members and organisational partners on key issues.
“I have discovered in my first few weeks in this new role, that we have a wonderful team of experienced, passionate and knowledgeable support staff who play a vital role for us as members and our community,” he says.
“It has become clear to me, that their ability to provide honest and frank information to board members is often compromised by their exposure to public and media elements in open workshop settings.
“We want to provide a welcoming environment for officers and others to articulate their reports, findings and thoughts without interruption, disruption or heckling from external attendees.
“My views were further reinforced after attending a recent chairs forum. There, all chairs I spoke to, unanimously advised against open workshops for much the same reasons.
“I want to make it very clear that the aim of this change to our workshops, is not to hide anything from the public. Open, honest and regular communication with our public is of paramount importance to me and the whole team.
“To assist this with, our local board services team have already identified and committed to several mechanisms to ensure openness and transparency of content discussed at workshops. These include offering drop-in sessions for the public, enhanced reporting of workshop records, and an invitation from our board staff to meet with interested media outlets post-workshop to take them through any matters of interest.
“Finally, let me reassure residents, that closing our workshops will not equate to reduced community engagement. We are all going to be very active over the coming months engaging with our community on the upcoming Annual Budget, new Local Board Plan, Unlock Takapuna Project and the critical Lake Road Improvements Project.”
The Motion of Notice to change workshops from ‘open’ to ‘closed’ was supported by members George Wood and Toni van Tonder, and passed with Chair Aidan Bennett’s casting vote. Members opposing the proposed Notice of Motion changes included Jan O’Conner, Trish Deans and Ruth Jackson.