ICC opens council workshops to public

The Invercargill City Council will start to open its long-term plan workshops in an effort to be more open and transparent with its ratepayers, the mayor says.

Throughout the year, elected members usually take part in council’s workshops with staff who present a report with detailed information ahead of meetings.

This gatherings — which were previously behind closed doors — were an opportunity for councillors to ask questions and brainstorm the matters before making any decisions.

Speaking to the Otago Daily Times last week, Invercargill Mayor Nobby Clark said even before he was elected, when he was a ratepayer advocate, he drew attention to the importance of those workshops being open to the public.

This was to ensure transparency for ratepayers, he said.

Since his election, he spoke with staff and elected members about his desire and believed people were understanding of its benefits.

"Some of them were a bit concerned in the start as they felt it could prevent some frank and open debates.

"But I told them if you can’t say something in front of members of the public, you shouldn’t be saying it at all."

He said all elected members committed to being as transparent as they could be.

Unless there was a good reason for the workshop or discussion to be held behind closed doors, ratepayers should be fully informed so they could understand the decisions being made by the council was on their behalf, he said.

"The majority of the meetings will be livestreamed. The exception will be when it involves commercial sensitivity or employment issues — then we are obligated under the act to held those discussions in private."

He expected some lively discussions, but stressed no decisions were being made yet.

"A preference may be highlighted at the end of the workshop, but this only becomes a decision once made at a council meeting where all relevant decision-making information will be presented," he said.

Starting today and running until November, the workshops will discuss council-based initiatives such as community wellbeing, housing, financial and infrastructure strategies, and the city centre focus ahead of the long-term plan.

The first one at 10.30am today will discuss topics ranging from Esk St to how the council can support events in the city centre.