Published 28 September 2009
Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee apologised to me at today’s council meeting because I hadn’t received the invitation to the council’s extraordinary meeting on 11 September.
It was the first I’d heard of any invitation, and I told the council so. Through the whole of a fortnight, nobody at the council had inquired why an invitation mightn’t have got through to me. Had my email address changed? My phone numbers? Minus any of those inquiries, I didn’t believe there was an invitation that had somehow gone astray.
And if there wasn’t one, why pretend there was?
A couple of things had happened though. On Friday 11 September, the council issued a press release from Mr Lee saying the council voted unanimously that day to tell the Government to leave the region’s boundaries alone.
I responded to the release: “As far as I can see you didn’t have a council meeting today – at least, not a publicly notified one with an agenda that you’d bothered to put on your website. And if it was important enough to hold, why didn’t you tell people about it? Least of all, those who are inclined to attend these things?”
Mr Lee responded quickly: The meeting was prominently covered in the Herald the previous day, he said. And besides, other media attended. I later discovered there was a public notice in the previous day’s Herald.
I follow the affairs of councils around the region fairly closely, but I don’t sit on the phone making sure they’re telling me everything they’re up to. Councils encourage use of the internet to provide documents and I’m very happy to operate that way.
If I miss something, most times it’s very likely to be my own fault. But if they change their programme, I don’t expect to know that automatically.
Does any of this matter? I spend a lot of time in council chambers & courtrooms, digesting facts & views, trying to distil information to present website readers with a clear picture of what I think is important in terms of property & business. In my 11 September email, I told Mr Lee: “If you don’t want an independent picture presented, why not hold all your meetings behind closed doors and just throw out a biased page on what happened after it’s over (well, like today, really).”
Mr Lee, along with many other local politicians, has been making a great deal lately of the importance of local democracy, of transparent local decision-making. I don’t blame staff for hiccups – I believe this transparency, this observation of the substance of open local politics, starts at the top. And at the top of the ARC – the chairman & committee chairmen – there’s been a frequent clear failure to perform.
Mr Lee made his apology to me at a meeting for which the agenda was not on the council website (appendices were, but not the order paper itself). I rang to check on the agenda during the afternoon and the error was hastily fixed, but not soon enough for me to read the documentation before the meeting.
I told Mr Lee in my email to him I regarded the 11 September meeting as a private one, and I told the council today I regarded this afternoon’s meeting in the same vein, notwithstanding the presence of a large deputation for part of it.
You can regard my point as being pedantic insistence on abiding by rules. I regard it as body language. Politicians who go into meetings without a clear knowledge of the subject matter guarantee their failure to perform. Politicians who don’t tell their public what they’re going to be discussing, fail their public. ARC meetings I attend habitually last a good two-thirds longer than they ought to because the councillors are behaving incompetently. These are people who, apparently, spoke with one voice a fortnight ago – when it suited them, and although they apparently needed a press conference to explain what they’d all said at the meeting.
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Attribution: Council meeting, comment, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.