Mayor Defends Forums

cropped-guru-2Kapiti’s Mayor defends informal public forums

Kapiti’s new Mayor, K Gurunathan (Guru), has replied to criticism in KIN with a detailed defence of the new policy of providing public forums, which are neither minuted or recorded. He says:

Thank you for the long standing invitation. The informal public forum is an experimental attempt to create another opportunity for members of the public to raise matters with councillors.

The only constraint is the allocated 30 minute time before the start of formal council meetings. So public speakers are asked to speak for 3 minutes with the discretion of the chair to extend that.

The key to this democratic space is the word informal. So no minutes are kept and, apart from some guiding notes, there is no formal recordings done.

Staff are also not present so its entirely an opportunity for members of the public and councillors to explore issues.

KCDC Headquarters in Paraparaumu
KCDC staff absent from  forum

Viewed as a clearing house, the forum has the ability to do a number of things:

  • 1)  it gives individual councillors the opportunity to pick up on a public concern and be a facilitator or champion of that.
  • 2) councillors may facilitate referring the matter to a relevant community board.
  • 3) councillors may decide the matter significant enough to seek a staff report using the appropriate process to initiate such a report.
  • 4) councillors may think the matter important enough for the chair to consider adding it to the formal public speaking time allocated during the formal council meeting.
  • 5) councillors may decide not to do anything about a matter raised, apart from listening.

So far, after two public forum exercises, one matter has been taken up by a councillor, another was allowed to to be raised during the public speaking time of the associated formal council meeting, and another was referred to staff for some legal advice.

KCDC -- open or closed?
KCDC — open or closed?

The last was on the question of whether, despite the informal nature of the meeting, such meetings were required to be done under Standing Orders and, therefore, had to be formally recorded and minuted.

The experiment with this democratic space has been immediately successful at two (perhaps three — Ed) levels.

Firstly, it has allowed some issues to be raised or facilitated early during the day of the council meeting without the person having to wait several hours until the end of the formal meeting.

Gavin Welch
Gavin Welch

This was the format generally used by the cabal of chairs in the last triennium except for Gavin Walsh who wisely used his discretion to allow non-agenda items to be raised by speakers as per normal.  

That discretion by the chairs still exists. If, when chairing a council meeting the public approach me about any non-agenda item and I think the issue and the circumstances warrant it, I may allow its inclusion during public speaking time. We have four chairs and the style and approach may be different.

The second reason why the forum is already a success is that it has created public interest and debate. Different viewpoints have been taken and positions are being passionately advocated.

The very fact that KIN’s taken the mayor to task and challenged me to respond is the value of the media fulfilling its role as the Fourth Estate. Let’s hope that other more sharper minds feel inspired to engage in this experiment at nutting out a creative democratic space. It is a bit like public art. Nothing like a bit of robust controversy to define that public perception.

There is perhaps a third reason. One that is actually quite ironic. The agenda of last Thursday’s, 18 November,  Strategy and Policy Committee meeting included two significant items.

One on the Wellington Regional Natural Hazards Management Strategy and the other on council’s Policy Work Programme.

The first included matters related coastal hazards and also on flooding. The later specifically included an item on KCDC’s Flood Management Strategy.

The public would have been able to speak on these matters and raise questions. Senior staff present would have responded to the issues raised. And the whole thing would have been recorded, minuted and live-streamed to the general public and the political universe.  

Yet, member of the public, John Harivel, who spoke on the excellent topic of the need for council to have a holistic approach to flood management, and raised a set of very pertinent questions, chose to speak at the earlier informal public forum. He even raised the question of the right to have it recorded!  

He could have waited a few minutes and used the formal meeting and have his points responded tooby senior staff and recorded.

The issues relating to coastal hazards, managed retreat, and public notification, raised at the first informal public forum could also have been formally raised and recorded at Thursday’s formal Strategy and Policy Committee meeting.  

It could, therefore, be argued that despite an open, transparent and accountable access being freely available, some have exercised their right not to use it. Choosing instead to rattle-the-cage inside the informal public forum.

Democracy is indeed not only a messy business but also a mind-bending one. As Mr Harivel so eloquently put it he will continue to jerk…the lead.

I am really pleased our Mayor has expressed the desire to include public submissions during the workshop process while we investigate better ways to bring more openness in Councils meetings. It has taken four years to get this discussion going in earnest. I look forward to the debate. Cr Jackie Elliott 0210452762

Firstly this is my personal opinion, and not necessarily the opinion of the council , and I have already taken the opportunity to have a frank discussion with the Mayor, saying, I just don’t think the forums are politicly wise for the reasons below.

Your Councillors did not decide to hold informal public forums before meetings.
We have yet to have the opportunity to vote on it. (a 75% majority or 9/11Councilors, to change the standing orders) .
The decision was made to have these public forums by those new members attending a workshop on standing orders, during induction training in November.
Workshops and briefings are NOT a forum for decsion making. Meetings are. That is clear.
Independant legal advice is already that not keeping official records is a breach of standing orders and LGOIMA.

I publicly supported the Mayor during the election, however I see his decision to entirely remove public speaking on issues that are not on the agenda from the formal meeting records as against his mandate of transparency, openness and democracy and so I can not support the forums on principle for that reason.

The Mayor says- This is just an experiment. Why then last Thursday were councillors sent formal invitations to attend public forums right through to December 2017. When we have not yet had the opportunity to formaly vote to use them? I will not be responding to the invitation requests.

The Mayor says – he could just hold the forums at Saturday morning markets. I think he should as an experiment for a month. And during that month, look at the Councils formal meeting agendas, and look at the public speaking restrictions. First ex Mayor Church and three Chairs restrict public speaking on items not on an agenda to the end of meetings in 2015, Then Mayor Gurunathan completely removes public speaking on items not on an agenda from our meetings.

What formal forums with proper record keeping are the public left with. None, and that is the reality. Cr Jackie Elliott 0210452762

The Kapiti Mayor raised several important issues in his eloquent support of the “informal public forum” concept. Firstly the purpose apparently of the “democratic space” is to provide a “clearing house” for “members of the public to raise matters with councillors”. The process he describes is similar to that used by Kapiti community boards and leads to the same possible conclusions. If this is true then why have community boards?
Secondly the Mayor suggests that some submitters choose “ to rattle-the–cage inside the informal public forum” and concludes “ Democracy is indeed not only a messy business but also a mind-bending one.” What he is describing is politics. Democracy is defined as the principle of fair rights for all. Processes where people can bring genuine concerns and receive positive resolution. A process with integrity.

I take issue with the Mayor on a number of counts. I consider his comments to be spurious and disingenuous. His arguments are seriously flawed. One is drawn to the conclusion of a hidden agenda. There appears to be a death wish for the public forums to fail and be discarded. To avoid public scrutiny. Councilors should be open to scrutiny. They are elected for the people by the people not for their own ends. They are not part of some secret society or cabal. There are enough public excluded meetings as it is. Councilors are and should be accountable to the electorate. They have a responsibility to engage. They have a responsibility to enter into dialogue with the community not hide behind bureaucratic rules or use legal processes on an ‘attack and defend at all costs’, we know best attitude. Council certainly do not have the intellectual edge on the community. It makes sense for Council to engage that intellect in a positive not negative way. The current public forums are not one that encourages engagement.

The point of a public forum should be for Councilors to engage with their community and enter into a dialogue. Where else can members of the public engage with all councilors in a single forum? There is little opportunity for genuine engagement or dialogue in 3 minute bit sizes within what is essentially a formal setting.

The previous limited number of public forums were much more informal in setting with all around and table and were more of a conversation. Again they were not recorded with little if any feedback. As a result people gave up on them as pointless. Only a very limited number of councilors ever attended. notably not councilor Gurunathan.

Engagement is about listening for contribution. It is not about trying to score points or play silly games as the Mayor did. The majority of councilors do not engage during the public forums, some instead fiddling with their smart phones. Few appear to have any profound thoughts on anything instead appearing like stuffed mullets. I would like to be proved otherwise.

Just because a meeting is informal is no justification for not having the issues raised recorded. Its is not that difficult. The Mayor just has to extend his arm under his desk to switch on the recording machine. Maybe he should practice using that muscle.

If there is no process for recording issues raised and responses given then no one knows whether an issue has been heard, taken up, acted upon or discarded. It just disappears into the great blue ether. Again no accountability. Nor are others in the community aware of what has been raised or whether it is related to them or indeed whether they have already raised the same issue. This is a very inefficient process for all concerned.

In relation to the issue of storm water and flooding I clearly failed to get across not the specific issue of my access bridge and flooding on my site, but the plea that councilors look at the problem holistically. The issue of storm water and flooding is complex and affected by many variables. yet we have staff or agency reports for example (NZTA May 15 Floods) that explain away the problems by sighting abnormal weather conditions. (It was only a 20 year flood) On the ground we know ourselves that we are now being flooded much more frequently that we ever were in the past 18 years. We have standing water over many months that we never had before.

I expect rather optimistically that councilors would have the where withal to question the spin and ask searching questions. I expect councilors to understand and have knowledge of the issues as well as some intellectual capacity not just agree to what ever they are told. I expect councilors to actually read the numerous papers they receive and to understand them. I expect councilors to bring to the party an understanding of the issues facing the District together with an understanding of how to get things done within the framework of the bureaucratic processes they are working with.

Lastly the Mayor’ totally spurious justification of that the storm water issues I raised could have been allowed in the main council meeting under matters related to the agenda. This is a fabrication after the event. First the agenda related to disaster planning. Second if the Mayor was so aware at the time that I could have spoken under an agenda item he should have advised me so. To refer to my comments and those who attended as ‘cage rattling’ merely demeans the Mayor in my view and demonstrates his contempt for the contributions made.

Information is power. Restricting information is what happens in a dictatorship. Shining a light on a topic is a guarantee of democracy.

If councilors do not wish to be recorded one can only assume they do not wish to be held accountable.

Given the Mayor’s election planks of ‘Openness Transparency and Accountability’ together with his criticism of the ‘Ross Church not defending the community’s rights’, one can be forgiven for thinking the Mayor has been captured by some alien being and now speaks a totally different language to that before the election. (It reminds me of that marvelous skit by Spitting Image when the President’s brain went missing).

Gurunathan has always been a fence sitter and clearly falls one way or the other dependent upon what takes his fancy or more particularly what benefits him personally. That it should become so evident so early in the Mayority must be a record and a great disappointment for those who thought a change of culture could at last become a possibility. But no we are just being served up more of the same.

(Apparently its not the Mexicans that are building the wall but Indian engineers for Bombay! What is the man on? Are we to take this man at all seriously?)

As the mayor clearly enjoys my eloquent Glaswegian patois I add another or two. “The Mayor’s jacket is on a shouggley peg”. ” The man’s a balloon”, full of hot air with little substance.

Outraged from Otaihanga!