24 Jul 2018

50% increase in secret reports at Christchurch Council

From Checkpoint, 6:20 pm on 24 July 2018

Christchurch council meetings have been closed to the public more often in order to discuss secret agenda items - sparking calls for transparency.

In 2013, 98 agenda items, including reports, minutes and decisions, were discussed with the public excluded. That jumped to 224 last year.

RNZ showed these figures to the Christchurch City Council but its chief executive Karleen Edwards said from 2015 agenda items were recorded individually rather than together, skewing the figures.

But even by the council's own estimation, that was still a 46 percent increase.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel assured RNZ there was nothing sinister about closed door meetings.

"There are a greater number of decisions as we enter into commercial arrangements with people that are dealt with."

Ms Dalziel said any increase was also dependant on the timing of papers due to appear before the council.

Changes to the process had been and would continue to be made.

At some point in almost every Christchurch City Council meeting the public and media are told to leave. Most councillors RNZ spoke to said there could be a better way.

First term councillor Mike Davidson said there were a number of reasons for closed meetings.

"But I think it needs to change and it needs to change earlier rather than later."

Councillor Aaron Keown said there had already been discussions about being more transparent in meetings.

"And it's just not happened. It's always been talk which is quite disappointing."

Councillor Jamie Gough said there needed to be a review.

Of councillors RNZ spoke to, only Tim Scandrett was happy with the status quo.

Former mayor Garry Moore said closed door meetings needed to be more rigorously questioned.

"When you are sitting at the council table, it is very hard when you've got that legal advice, but I think just as people should challenge whether something is going into public excluded or not, people should be challenging whether the legal advice is right."