Ombudsman's investigation sparks changes at Gisborne council

12:22 pm on 28 October 2023
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has visited his old hometown of Gisborne more than once this year following Cyclone Gabrielle.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has visited his old hometown of Gisborne more than once this year, following Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo: Paul Rickard/Gisborne Herald/LDR

The public could soon be informed about workshops at Gisborne District Council, after the Ombudsman called for more council transparency nationwide.

On Tuesday, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier released the findings of his investigation into eight councils, setting out a list of expectations to "increase transparency and accountability".

The investigation tested concerns that councils were using workshops and informal meetings to make decisions.

Although Boshier found no evidence of that happening, he said some councils were effectively closing all workshops by default, which was unreasonable.

Gisborne District Council, which was not investigated by Boshier, holds 'open' workshops, but fails to provide information to the public about them.

Since October 2022, the council held 18 workshops, none of which were advertised publicly.

Boshier said it was important for councils to release times, dates and venues for upcoming workshops for both transparency and public attendance.

He was critical of the practice of labelling workshops as 'open', when the public was not told about them happening.

"It is difficult to imagine how a council could consider a workshop to be 'held in public' when the public doesn't know about it," he said in the report.

Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz says the process has been “frustrating at times” but councillors remain excited about the future.

Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz. Photo: LDR

In response to questions from Local Democracy Reporting, Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz said in a written statement the council agreed with the Ombudsman on the importance of making decisions in public view.

Workshops were mostly used at the council when staff and councillors needed to discuss proposals, options and ideas before making decisions, she said.

"In light of the Ombudsman's report, council will consider a more transparent way of advising our public what workshops have taken place or will take place," Stoltz said.

The council was now considering putting up workshop times and agendas on its website.

Stoltz said no decision-making took place behind closed doors.

Although workshops had not been advertised publicly in the past, groups and community members with vested interests had at times been involved, the council said.

The eight councils investigated by the Chief Ombudsman were Rotorua Lakes Council, Taupō District Council, Palmerston North City Council, Taranaki Regional Council, Rangitīkei District Council, Waimakariri District Council, Timaru District Council and Clutha District Council.

- Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs