Consultation document novel in its brevity

Jim O'Malley
Jim O'Malley
The Dunedin City Council is trying a new approach to explaining its 10-year budget: plain English.

Councillors yesterday signed off on a ''concise'' consultation document setting out the draft plans for the next decade, which will now become the subject of public debate.

And, in a change from previous years, gone are the hundreds of pages of detailed financial figures, tables and graphs covering every aspect of council activities for the period.

In its place is a 17-page summary presenting the 10-year budget's highlights, key points and projects in brief, and with greater use of te reo.

Most councillors, including Mayor Dave Cull and Crs Christine Garey, David Benson-Pope and Aaron Hawkins, praised the new approach yesterday.

''To me, it's bold, it's positive and it takes Dunedin into an exciting future,'' Cr Garey said.

However, Cr Jim O'Malley worried the document did not give ratepayers an adequate chance to say no.

When it came to a project such as the proposed bridge to the city's waterfront, only two options were offered - a $20million architectural structure or a ''basic'' bridge costing $10million.

Cr O'Malley said the council also needed to be open to outright opposition if it was to consult properly.

That prompted a testy retort from Cr Hawkins, who argued the document reflected earlier decisions made by councillors.

Councillors needed to take ''ownership'' of the results and learn lessons for next time, rather than trying to revisit it now, he suggested.

Cr O'Malley shot back with a point of order, saying he was being ''basically insulted'' by Cr Hawkins, but Mr Cull overruled it.

Council strategy and governance general manager Sandy Graham said critics of council spending were ''generally forthcoming'' anyway, but the document's feedback section would be tweaked to ensure there was adequate opportunity to do so.

The consultation period would run from March 14 to April 23, before councillors met again to hear from submitters and consider changes to the 10-year plan.


Council agendas are available to the public two working days before the meeting, not much time to read and understand issues to be decided. The councillors don't get them much before that. Time and again, I see at council meetings, individual councillors query some project the DCC has embarked on, or some aspect of it, only to be told by staff and often the mayor that the matter has already been agreed to by the elected council at a previous meeting. I think the decision-making process at the DCC could be greatly improved. Slow it down for a start so councillors really understand what they are being asked to decide on and keep in mind that options presented by staff may not be the best or only possibilities.