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Until yesterday, the outbreak of Covid-19 threatened local government’s ability to operate but Parliament met under urgency yesterday to pass a raft of emergency measures, including new rules for official local government meetings.
As part of the Covid-19 Response (Urgent Management Measures) Legislation Bill, an amendment to the Local Government Act 2002 allows council members attending a meeting via audiovisual link to be counted for the purposes of quorum — the number of members that must be present for the council to do business.
Local Government New Zealand president Dave Cull praised the decision yesterday.
‘‘It’s not a trivial issue,’’ he said.
‘‘At a time when we’re all being told we must stay at home, we must work from home, we must do business by ... video link — and the rules around local government decision-making remain the same — it just isn’t practical.
‘‘If you think about the fact that councils all around the country are urgently looking at their annual plan proposals, looking at reprioritising spending, looking at ways to relieve the rates burden ... they can’t do that.
‘‘If you look at the essential services — roading, public transport, water, both freshwater and wastewater and waste disposal — those things are all handled by, and the services are all provided by local government, almost overwhelmingly. It’s an indication of how important it is to enable local government to make decisions and to continue to provide those services.’’
Prior to the rule change only those councillors physically present could be counted and if there were not enough official business could not be conducted.
The Dunedin City Council cancelled its March 31 meeting.
Yesterday’s scheduled Otago Regional Council meeting was also cancelled.