FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Long Live The Forum?

… the Forum Romanum was the key political, ritual, and civic center. Sal Khan

Public speaking to Council under threat?

By Roger Childs

The new mayor in not keen on recording the new forum
The new mayor in not keen on recording the new forum

Having time set aside for the local citizens to raise issues with the Council they elected, is common around the country. Kapiti people have welcomed the recent introduction of 30 minutes public speaking time before Council Meetings.

Along with John Le Harivel and Salima Padamsey, I’ve attended the two forums held so far.

At both, there has been some tension, mainly over the very reasonable request that the submissions, and subsequent councillor questions and comments, go on the public record.

The mayor and some councillors don’t like the idea, and Mayor Gurunathan and Councillor Cootes last Thursday, suggested that continuing to ask for this sensible and logical process might see an end to the forums.

Not taking democracy seriously?

Council meets in the ground floor chambers
Council meets in the ground floor chambers

One wonders if the Council is convinced about the idea of the forums. The mayor and councillors need to remember that they were voted in by the ratepayers, who also help fund their recently increased salaries.

The chance for the public to speak at a forum should be seen as a right and not a privilege, and should be taken seriously. 

However last Thursday, two councillors and the deputy mayor were late in arriving, and at least one councillor spent a lot of forum time checking his cell phone.

So, is the forum concept just seen as a tiresome sop to democracy which might best be discarded?

Some councillors, notably Mike Cardiff and Jackie Elliott, listen attentively and respond, but it is not helpful when the mayor seems ambivalent about their value and even suggested that they could be shifted to the market.

There must be a public record

A critical issue remains the question of having the forum deliberations minuted.

What is the use of having members of the public go to the trouble of preparing a 3 minute speech, knowing that there will be no record of what they, and responding councillors, said?

Salima in her contribution on Thursday, pointed out that existing Standing Orders actually require a record of all parts of Council Meetings to be kept.

It is not as if the forum is a formal decision-making time and that those around the Council table will be pinned to the wall over how they responded.

However with a minuted record, Council and citizens can check back over what was raised and said.

What are the doubters afraid of? As Franklin Roosevelt said in the early 1930s: They only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.

 

 (For more thoughts, see John Le Harivel’s comments made after the Thursday 24 November forum. You can find them at the end of this recent KIN article: http://kapitiindependentnews.net.nz/welcome-to-the-mayoralty-guru/#comment-653342 )

 

 

 

I write in reference to the Mayor’s article. The Mayor did not address the issue of why the public forum is not on public record. How disappointing! He indulges into unintelligible statements but refuses to explain why an informal forum can not be on public record. This can only be seen as Councillors not wanting transparency and accountability.
It appears that Council is using a legal contrivance by use of the phrase the “informal meeting “is to avoid with complying with the Public Records Act. For 26 years KCDC had followed the law and recorded submissions. Suddenly this new Council wants to avoid its legal obligations. Why? The only inference is that our own elected officials dont want to be on public record…a sad day for democracy