Mistake not to advertise workshops, council says

Efforts by the Dunedin City Council to be more open with the public about its workshops hit a snag this week.

Changes to the system announced in October last year were designed to improve transparency — some workshops were opened up to public viewing and there was an undertaking to advertise even those that had to remain closed to the public.

The Otago Daily Times asked the council about a series of workshops seemingly held at short notice. The council signalled staff illness was behind a recent glitch.

A city council Noticeboard advertisement last Saturday said no workshops were scheduled for this week.

The actual number held, including three today, is seven.

Three non-public workshops were held on Monday and an unadvertised public workshop on Tuesday was about resource management legislation.

"We acknowledge these should have been advertised, even when non-public, but we do note topics and timetables can shift at short notice to accommodate other priorities and emerging issues," a council spokesman said.

"We are also endeavouring to schedule future workshops according to a more regular timetable, but a degree of flexibility will continue to be required," he said.

"There has been no change in policy — just an oversight due to staff illness-related absences."

The council’s recently adjusted website shows three workshops happening today, including two open to the public.

They are about a waste minimisation management plan and the Dunedin Botanic Garden.

A property update this morning is closed to the public because of commercial sensitivity.

The non-public workshops on Monday were about the South Dunedin library and community centre under construction, a property update and the next proposed variation to the council’s district plan.

Councils are barred from making decisions at workshops and they have typically been used as informal briefing sessions, forums for discussion and as a mechanism for navigating complex subjects efficiently.

When closed workshops were standard, critics argued they were too often used to evade public scrutiny.

The council’s move — to hold workshops in public unless grounds for privacy such as commercial sensitivity and legal privilege applied — followed a call from the chief ombudsman for councils to open workshops by default.