Dunedin city councillor Jinty MacTavish is among those
backing a call to investigate greater use of technology by
councils, which could see votes cast by iPad and other
changes. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Dunedin city councillors could soon be beaming in their
votes by iPad and Skype if a push to increase the use of
technology by local authorities finds favour.
The suggestion came in a Local Government Efficiency
Taskforce report released this week, which recommended
investigating greater use of technology by councils.
The recommendation was met by a mix of cautious optimism in
Dunedin, where a digital divide of sorts existed among city
Some, such as Cr Jinty MacTavish, have embraced social media,
tweeting furiously and updating Facebook after each council
Others, such as Cr Richard Thomson, declared themselves to be
''not a tweeter'' and ''barely a Facebooker''.
However, the taskforce suggested their were efficiencies to
be gained by promoting the use of technology, which could
potentially allow councillors to contribute to meetings - and
even vote - without actually being there.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said he saw merit in the idea,
although he was nervous about allowing councillors to attend
every meeting from home by video conferencing.
However, it would be useful when extraordinary council
meetings were called at short notice, sometimes with brief
agendas, which required far-flung councillors to travel long
''If we had the technology we could do it really easily,'' Mr
The move could also help reduce the mountain of paperwork
produced for each council meeting, and remote voting could
also be an option as long as any ''fish hooks'' were
identified and resolved first, he said.
''I could see real efficiencies in having it there as a
mechanism when we needed it.''
The taskforce's report noted councillors were unable to use
technology to vote ''when not physically present'' at council
meetings, but changing that could create efficiencies,
particularly for out-of-town councillors.
Cr Kate Wilson, who lives at Middlemarch and commuted for
council business, welcomed any change that allowed greater
use of video conferencing for council meetings.
Her trip took an hour each way - or up to 90 minutes if it
had snowed - and ultimately cost time and money, she said.
''I waste up to 10 hours a week driving.
''That's time I can't read, I can't do emails, I can't be on
the phone ... it's time I could be a much more effective
councillor,'' she said.
Cr MacTavish said the council already made use of technology
for initiatives like the People's Panel, but there was room
She supported using technology to make council business and
public consultation more efficient, and backed video
conferencing and remote voting for meetings.
''We are improving all the time, but there's still a lot we
could be doing.''
Cr Lee Vandervis agreed technology could save time, but drew
the line at allowing councillors to regularly debate and vote
from elsewhere apart from in exceptional circumstances.
''I think councillors should be sitting around a table, and
we should be coming to a decision without having to look at
monitors and all the stuff that would hang around that.''
Cr Thomson disagreed, saying video conferencing for meetings
already worked well for other public organisations, like
district health boards.
Adopting that approach would allow councillors who had to be
out of town, but were not busy at the exact time a council
meeting took place, to participate.
''It doesn't matter if you are in the same room. It's whether
you participated in the same discussion,'' he said.