DCC's bid to boost public meeting crowds

The Dunedin City Council is to consider revamping the way it consults its community in a push to boost crowds at some public meetings.

The move comes after consultation on the council's budget attracted mixed results at public meetings in recent years.

At some public events, empty seats outnumbered those present, while other events attracted large crowds.

The issue was raised at yesterday's 2014-15 draft annual plan meeting, when some councillors questioned the merits of continuing with public meetings that attracted poor turnouts.

Cr Richard Thomson said he was among those unfortunate enough to be at a poorly attended public information session held outside the Pak'n Save supermarket on an ''extremely cold'' day last year.

He suggested switching such events to an issues-based approach, meaning public meetings to discuss specific issues, like cycleways or changes to the Forsyth Barr Stadium's operating model.

Council corporate plan policy analyst Jane Nevill agreed, saying consideration was already being given to such a change.

In the past, there had been strong turnouts for meetings in areas with specific issues, such as Portobello during construction of the Otago Peninsula cycleway, while other areas without issues had lower turnouts, she said.

The council could also consider doubling-up on some events, such as planned consultation on the budget and the council's second-generation district plan, to target a ''captive audience''.

Cr Kate Wilson was among other councillors supporting the change, saying she would ''love'' to see a meeting in South Dunedin to discuss the area's proposed community complex.

However, Cr Lee Vandervis urged staff to go further, saying he took the results of existing public consultation with ''quite a grain of salt'' because of the ability of unrepresentative minority groups to skew results.

Instead, he suggested the council follow Wanganui's example, where ratepayers were asked to rank the issues and projects they were most concerned about.

The DCC could do the same in documents sent out with rates bills, he suggested.

Ms Nevill said a trial could also be considered in Dunedin, although the city's quarterly rates bills did not match the timing of consultation on the council's annual budget.

Cr Aaron Hawkins warned the scheme could fail to capture the views of tenants who paid rates through rent.

Cr Jinty MacTavish asked for digital financial documents to be made more easily available to the public in an open excel format, rather than a closed format, which council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose was happy to accept.

Councillors voted to approve the council's consultation plan, including consideration of councillors' proposed changes.

Public comment

If the council truly wanted to increase public involvement they would return to the time tried mechanism of having public question time at the start of each and every council meeting, something they got rid of in an attempt to silence people who wanted to ask embarrassing questions about the stadium.

Instead they've instituted these separate meetings at which all the council members are not required to attend - so stop allowing the councilors to hide from the issues and let us front up at council meetings and ask councilors questions they don't want to hear, just like every other city. Changing the meetings to only address particular issues will further reduce opportunities to engage with council, let the citizens and ratepayers decide what issues are important to them rather than some faceless bureaucrat.

And if you really want people to come to meetings stop holding them during working hours when most people can't come, all you get is people who own their own businesses and not the rest of us, a decidedly skewed turnout.

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