Kapiti Council’s new rules deny free speech
An opinion piece by Salima Padamsey
The KCDC’s new standing orders — recently recommended for the 2016-2019 triennium by Local Government NZ — were adopted by a majority vote.
But they seem deeply undemocratic.
Standing orders are comprised of rules for council meetings that are mostly administrative in nature. They are vital in ensuring that Council meetings flow smoothly and efficiently.
But what makes these standing orders different from the previous ones, is the adoption of section
14.15 (Restrictions) allowing the Chair of any public meeting to decline to hear a speaker under the
The criteria are:
- A speaker is repeating views presented by an earlier speaker at the same meeting
- The speaker is criticising elected members
- The speaker has previously spoken on the same issue
By using the broad catch-all of ‘criticizing elected members’ as a screen to hide behind, any elected official may now refuse to respond to, or even to hear, the concerns of their constituents.
If a Chair of any public meeting can dismiss a speaker on the grounds of ‘criticising elected members’ what value does a public meeting have?
If we can only sing the praises of elected members, how can we air our concerns if issues involve the behavior of elected members and, just as importantly, how can elected members know what the community thinks on any issue?
Is the exercising of our democratic right restricted to voting only? Surely democracy requires a mutual understanding between the governors and the governed?
Then how can the public engage?
Where is the “two-way street”?
As councillors do not hold clinics, how does the public now engage with our council in an open, transparent and accountable manner?
Where are the records of public contributions in the public forum?
What is a public forum if the public information submitted is not recorded?
How can we ‘trust’ our elected officials when OUR words and OUR concerns are not a matter of public record and can be dismissed so undemocratically?
No public consultation
The fact that no public consultation took place during the drafting of these new standing orders is perhaps a demonstration of the lip service paid to democracy.
Now that KCDC have the ability to silence criticism at any of their public meetings, what does the future hold for communication between the public and their elected members?
Letters to councillors may be acknowledged, but rarely followed up on critical issues. The only other tool we have where we could voice our concerns is at public meetings.
The Council says these restrictions will help ‘manage’ council meetings.
Have these meetings now become so unruly that we need draconian measures to silence any speakers with awkward questions or valid concerns? Are councillors so lacking in confidence in their own work that they cannot accept a critique of their activities?
Council knows best
Perhaps the answer to all these questions is simpler than I have thought.
Maybe council just assumes unquestioningly that they know what is best for us, and that they no longer need our opinions?
After all it takes a council with self-confidence to be able to deal democratically with speakers and issues raised.
What kind of a council can choose to ignore the people it represents?
Note: KIN has asked Mayor K Gurunathan, a proponent of free speech, for his views on all this.