Laws says closed-door discussion was illegal

Michael Laws
Michael Laws
The Otago Regional Council acted illegally in discussing behind closed doors a review critiquing some of its core processes, Cr Michael Laws says.

Council chairman Stephen Woodhead said the paper was legitimately made private and Cr Laws was "grandstanding".

Last week, the council discussed a "consents review" in a private workshop and again in public-excluded committee at one of its meetings.

The review, commissioned last year, is an analysis and critique of the council's processes in issuing consents.

It came partly as a result of chief executive Sarah Gardner's involvement in the council granting a consent for a chairlift through a protected wetland at the Remarkables skifield.

Cr Laws said he abstained from the non-public meeting last week "rather than be a party to that kind of skulduggery".

The discussion should have occurred in public, he said.

Reasons given as to why it was not publicly released were "bogus", he said.

No natural persons needed protecting, there was no confidential information in the paper nor had any legal advice been given, he said.

"I walked out at that stage, because I knew that discussion was illegal. Now it's going to be hidden from the public of Otago."

The council wanted to hide the discussion paper by listing it on the agenda as "comments on function review", he said.

The report itself showed problems with the way the council issued consents, he said.

"Some are pretty serious, but not of a nature where you'd have to throw out the baby with the bath water."

The incident was part of a wider council problem of discussing issues privately, backed by council management and some members of governance, he said.

"It's been infuriating."

Council chairman Stephen Woodhead said Cr Laws was "grandstanding".

"I'm not quite sure what he hoped to achieve."

He agreed with the reasons staff identified as to why it needed to be discussed behind closed doors.

Councillors voted to keep the paper in public-excluded committee based on staff suggestion, he said.

"In time, the chief executive may choose to release a summary or part of the report. This was our first chance to formally discuss it."

There was "absolutely not" a wider issue of discussing important information privately, he said.

"I completely refute that. What we discuss and decide in committee is well and truly laid out in the relevant legislation."

He suggested Cr Laws work constructively with the council.

Mrs Gardner said reviews like the one discussed were opportunities for the council team to ensure they were "current and robust in their processes".


How can a member of the public comment on whether any particular council meeting or part of one should not have been non-pubiic? Impossible because the public do not know ... anything, exceot the barest outlinr in thr agenda paper.
However they can trust elected reps who have earned their trust by excellent past performance and Michael Laws has won both my trust and respect, i note that the ORC Chairman does not respond to the ISSUE but merely makes a weak ad hominem response. This makes me further suspect there’s no smoke here without a fire.