Covid-19: Council can’t explain gaps in meeting footage

12:40 pm on 1 April 2020

Rotorua Lakes Council is defending its production of a recording of its extraordinary meeting last week, but has been unable to explain gaps in its footage.

The meeting was held in the council chambers on Wednesday last week, and the public and media were told they could not attend but a recording of the meeting would be provided online "as soon as possible".

The video of the meeting was made available about six hours after the meeting, and contained four instances where the footage appeared to 'jump' - signalling time had passed without recording.

In one instance, a clock in the background appeared to skip ahead about five minutes.

The meeting was held on the eve of the national lockdown.

Council corporate planning and governance manager Oonagh Hopkins said it was "not ordinary circumstances".

"We are having to do things differently at this time, in ways we haven't done them before.

"Last week was the first time a council meeting had been conducted using Zoom.

"We had urgent matters to deal with prior to the lockdown and our priority was ensuring elected members not able to physically attend were able to participate effectively in the decision-making.

"Another camera was also recording the meeting and the recording provided to the public, using sections of recordings from both Zoom and the additional camera, included all matters that were not dealt with in confidential.

"None of the public matters or discussions relating to the public matters were edited out."

She said the council was still working on how meetings held during the lockdown would be conducted, and it would advise the public once details were finalised.

The Rotorua Daily Post asked the council three times why the usual livestream could not go ahead and whether or not the council could provide an explanation for the gaps in the footage.

The paper also asked if the council would ensure live public access to meetings in the future and whether it was a priority for the council.

A council spokeswoman responded saying the council did not have time to test running Zoom and livestreaming simultaneously.

"The priority was on ensuring that elected members who were unable to be physically present were able to participate effectively in the meeting."

Mayor Steve Chadwick declined to comment on the matter.

A Taxpayers' Union spokesman said livestreaming was "not rocket science" and it didn't need "slick presentation".

"At the very least the mayor can ask a staff member to stream from their phone to the council Facebook page.

"A livestream doesn't just provide public access to council meetings - it provides assurance to ratepayers that they are watching unedited footage with the same level of transparency as sitting in a public gallery.

"When Rotorua District Council uploads a recording six hours after the fact, with significant gaps or edits in the footage, they risk losing the trust of their ratepayers."

He said livestreaming meetings was good practice before the current crisis, and was now "more important than ever".

"Financial decisions will be made with significant effects on ratepayers, such as whether councils will mitigate or even freeze rate hikes, and whether they will cover revenue shortfalls with spending cuts or new borrowing."

Last week the government, along with amending rules to allow quorum via video link, made changes to the Local Government Act's definition of "open to the public" to add enabling access to meetings by live broadcasting audio or video of the meeting if it was "reasonably practicable".

The law also included making an audio or video recording or a written summary of the meeting available on the internet "as soon as practicable after the meeting ends".

A Local Government NZ spokesman said there may be "teething issues" with livestreaming.

"This is happening on relatively short notice, at a time when many people are working from home, but we imagine these will be resolved in future meetings."

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