Thursday, April 28, 2022

Unlawful secrecy in Rotorua

RNZ has a story today about fireworks at today's Rotorua lakes Council meeting, where a motion to move into confidential session over the controversial Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill caused a councillor to resign. The actual events can be viewed on the council livestream here (from 4:15 to 8:15). RNZ's focus is on the resignation, but meanwhile, something has been missed. Let's look at the report of that secrecy motion:

At a full council meeting today, Chadwick moved to include a discussion about the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill into a confidential section of the meeting.

She said it was to "enable us all as council, together, to have a free and frank discussion in response to the attorney general's request for further information needed to develop policy work".

The problem: "free and frank discussion" is not a lawful reason to exclude the public from a local authority meeting. In fact, it is specifically excluded by s48(1)(a)(i) of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (s7(2)(f)(i) is the LGOIMA's "free and frank" withholding ground).

The mayor should know this. The councillors should know it. The council staff responsible for running the meeting should know it. The fact that none of them did, or saw fit to mention it raises serious doubts about the competence of the council, and their knowledge of the laws they operate under. Its also concerning that RNZ's local democracy reporter failed to pick up on this, since you'd expect them to be familiar with LGOIMA. But I guess "councillor resigns" was a bigger story than "mayor illegally seeks secrecy and unaccountability".