Ombudsman investigating concerns councils are undermining democracy

Source: 1News

The Chief Ombudsman is investigating local councils around the country following concerns the use of "workshops" and other informal meetings is undermining local democracy by excluding the public.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier.

In announcing the investigation on Thursday, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said decisions should not be made behind closed doors.

"There is nothing to prevent councils from holding workshops but I am concerned at reports that some councils may be using them to avoid their responsibilities under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA).

"The public may become suspicious if councils repeatedly use closed workshops or informal meetings to discuss issues.

"Local government meetings must be open to everyone unless councillors pass a formal resolution to exclude the public."

The investigation will centre on Rotorua Lakes Council, Taranaki Regional Council, Taupō District Council, Palmerston North City Council, Rangitikei District Council, Waimakariri District Council, Timaru District Council and Clutha District Council.

Boshier said that he had selected these councils for "a variety of reasons" and they were not necessarily in the wrong.

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"The investigation will look at mix of different sized councils, both urban and rural. I'll be surveying the public, elected members and council staff in those areas.

"Some councils are getting it right. I want to understand how they achieve this and share their good practices with other councils so we can all learn from this investigation.

"I am aware local elections are coming up. I want to make clear this investigation is not about the conduct of individual elected representatives."

It's anticipated the outcome of the investigation will be published in mid-2023.