Readers with long enough memories may recall Claytons. It was one of the first ‘non-alcoholic alcohol’ drinks in NZ, packaged to look like whisky. The ad went something like: ‘Claytons – the drink you have when you’re not having a drink’. This sprang to mind recently in relation to the Hibiscus & Bays Local Board’s ‘open’ workshops, which could be subtitled – the open workshops you have when they are mostly closed.
Hibiscus Matters championed the opening of local board workshops to the public and media and, on May 21, largely due to the efforts of member Leanne Willis, they were voted in. When workshops are closed, items of community interest can be discussed in confidence whether or not they are truly confidential in nature.
Unfortunately, the right for the chair and staff to select what is discussed in confidence remains, and has been used within ‘open’ workshops frequently so far.
The first workshop after the local board’s decision fell on May 28 and was deemed entirely confidential. The topics discussed were: “phased reopening of local community facilities” and “additional review of the [local board’s] draft plan and preparation of specialist consultative procedure”. The former, at least, would surely struggle to meet any definition of confidentiality. Of two workshops since then, one went into confidential just half-an-hour after it opened and the other was open for around an hour when it was scheduled to go on for almost five hours.
A topic that was discussed openly in the June 11 workshop disappeared under the cloak of confidentiality when it came to the June 25 workshop.
Among the reasons given for confidential items were that they would come to an upcoming monthly (open) business meeting for a decision. This could be said about almost all the items in workshops.
Even the schedule outlining when workshops take place is not being made public unless they are open workshops and even then, only on social media.
Some items need to be confidential, but consistency and clear guidelines about what does and does not meet the criteria are needed.
The approach so far is not in the spirit of what was agreed to as ‘open’. Local board members spoken to by Hibiscus Matters say it is being driven by staff, not members. It remains to be seen how long it will be before those attitudes soften and ratepayers are given access to discussions between elected members about issues that concern them, and how their money is spent.