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Explanation: Closing Devonport-Takapuna Local Workshops

PRESS RELEASE – From Aidan Bennett,
Chairperson, Devonport-Takapuna Local Board

Explanation: Closing Devonport-Takapuna Local Board Workshops

For the past term the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board has had a policy of open ‘Workshops’ for the six elected board members when they are working with Local Board Services and Auckland Council/CCO staff. These are weekly discussions of the local board, held for the purpose of informing the board members of projects or issues at a very early stage. The board does not pass resolutions or otherwise make decisions at workshops. This decision making happens at monthly business meetings where the public have the opportunity to attend and speak to the board.

Three members of the newly elected Devonport-Takapuna Local Board – Aidan Bennett (Chair), George Wood (Deputy Chair) and Toni van Tonder – are proposing/supporting a motion to close these workshops to the public and media, which would mean that the public and media can’t attend.

This decision in no way changes the public’s attendance at the monthly Devonport-Takapuna Local Board ‘Business Meetings’ or the bi-monthly Community Forum meetings that the two previous boards instituted. A monthly Business Meeting will still be held once a month (most often the third Tuesday) that will always be open to the public and media. This is the meeting when all the decisions are made for that month and Local Board members are able to debate and formally engage with the public. The public has the right to speak at these meetings about matters that interest them.

The other weekly Workshops are where the six elected Devonport-Takapuna Local Board members work closely with Local Board Services and Auckland Council/CCO staff, and any other invited participants, to gather knowledge and information that assists with good decision making for their governance role.

There are 21 Local Boards that are part of Auckland Council. Devonport-Takapuna Local Board is one of those. In the most recent elected term 19 of these boards (over 90%) did not have open Workshops. These 19 local boards adopted the programme that is being proposed/supported by Devonport-Takapuna Local Board Members Aidan Bennett, George Wood and Toni van Tonder.

“My belief, and this is shared by George and Toni, is that having totally open workshops all the time results in good information and debate being compromised,” says Devonport-Takapuna Local Board Chairperson Aidan Bennett. “I personally believe that this has led to the impasse that occurred with decisions around several key issues this community has faced over recent years.”

“Having what are essentially totally open workshops means that frank and honest debate is stymied, and this is absolutely essential to reaching compromise on key issues. That’s what our task as a local board is – to make decisions that quite often can involve compromise, innovative thinking out loud, and debate, to get them over the line.”

“I am obviously new to this Local Board role, but what I have discovered in the few weeks I have been involved is that we have a wonderful team of experienced, passionate and knowledgeable support staff who play a very important role. It is clear that their ability to provide honest and frank information and opinions to Devonport-Takapuna Local Board members is compromised by their exposure to the public and media in these open workshops. Our desire is to close the workshops so members can be fully informed to enable good decision-making to take place in the monthly Business Meetings which will always be open to the public.”

“Another result of having open workshops is that the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board’s relationship with other key stakeholders, who play a part in providing very important information for the decision making process, is also not as good as it could be.”

“We believe that it is important for us to provide the best environment for Council officers and others to articulate their reports, findings and thoughts on Local Board projects without the interruption, scrutiny or distraction of external interest. More recently there has been heckling and interrupting in these meetings by public attendees.”

“My belief is that we need to provide the six local board members, including the four newbies – of which I am one – with the opportunity to build quality and meaningful relationships between themselves, and with Council staff, by creating the appropriate workshop environment. I recently attended a chairs forum of board chairs from the region and asked the advice of some of those in attendance. Those I spoke with unanimously advised to not have open Workshops.”

“I want to make it very clear that the aim of this change is not to hide anything from the public. It is totally focused on ensuring that the environment for debate and the flow of information is the best it can be. I can assure everyone that we will also be focusing on improving our communication to the wider public to ensure good information is being conveyed. Communication is something I believe I am good at and I intend to use this strength to keep the public very well informed.”

“Hand in hand with this move to close workshops, I have asked Local Board Services to provide advice on how we can ensure communication with the public is not compromised. They have already responded, identifying several mechanisms and approaches to ensure openness and transparency of the content at local board workshops. This includes drop-in sessions for the public, enhanced reporting for the workshop records, and the invitation for staff to meet with media post-workshop to take them through the matters discussed.”

• The elected Devonport-Takapuna Local Board meets every Tuesday.
• There is a formal ‘Business Meeting’ held on one of these Tuesday’s every month when the actual decisions are made and this is open to the public.
• On two Tuesday’s each month there are Workshops.
• The are also Community Forums held every second month that are specifically for public to come along to present and engage with Local Board members.
• The proposal supported by Local Board Members Bennett, Wood and van Tonder is to close the Workshops to media and public.
• At present, 19 of the 21 Auckland Council Local Boards across the Auckland region have closed Workshops – over 90%.


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