Kapiti’s Mayor Ross Church thinks restricting public speaking time at KCDC meetings will make council meetings shorter and more relevant.
I think this is a dangerous step which could severely hit democratic debate on the Coast.
Mayor Church seems to be targeting public speaking rights.
At a recent Council meeting, he suggested pubic speaking topics be restricted to items on the agenda.
He is also reported as saying concerned citizens could ‘engage with the council in other ways’ — by emailing, phoning and using the KCDC website.
We say: “Don’t go there Ross.” Why?
- Public speaking time at the KCDC is covered intensively by the media. This is the ‘hidden’ factor in the argument. Lots of Council flaws have first been identified, then publicised as a result of public speaking time.
- Alternatives suggested by the Mayor, emails for example, would not be subject to media scrutiny.
- Key Council mistakes which were rectified because of public speaking publicity include: A KCDC plan to impose library charges; the signing away of a vital accessway to the beach at Raumati (181 Rosetta Road); and the botched coastal hazards LIM programme.
- Some elected councillors act arrogantly — but speaking time forces them to ‘face the music’ of public criticism.
- Public speaking was good enough for Mayors Iride McCloy, Alan Milne, and Jenny Rowan.
- A good chair can limit and control public speaking time.
I’m saying this Ross as a former KCDC councillor and Community Board member (2001–20007). I had to ‘sit and take’ some vitriolic criticism. And I can honestly say I think it did me good at times!
I always remember how the Paekakariki Community Board dealt with a Paekak. local — I’ll call him ‘Mr X’ — who used to get most upset and abusive at meetings. Often he was so upset he was incoherent.
The chair, the late Adrian Webster (an extraordinary good democrat as well as an exemplary chair) always arranged for Mr X, to be given a courteous, but limited, hearing on every occasion he appeared.
Adrian would then make sure that Mr X’s complaints were noted — and pursued at Council level if necessary. And the change in X’s behaviour was extraordinary — he was ‘inside the tent.’
Mr Mayor, you are on record as promising a more open council. I think you said you would even make yourself available to the public in the front foyer of the new Civic building.
KIN says: This is great. But don’t throw out the baby out with the bathwater by restricting one of the great democratic traditions on the Kapiti Coast.