Three Rotorua district councillors who refused to attend a recent council meeting in protest over the number of agenda items being discussed confidentially say their stance has been vindicated by new figures.
Information supplied to the Rotorua Daily Post under the Official Information Act reveals 29 more items have been discussed in private by Rotorua Lakes Council in this three-year term of the council compared with last term, with 85 more meetings held between 2010 and 2013 compared with 2013 to 2016.
But Rotorua's mayor says the figures simply reflect the current council's different way of doing things and the number of confidential items was in fact a good sign for the city.
The May 26 meeting of the council had to be postponed due to a lack of numbers after Rob Kent, Mike McVicker and Peter Bentley refused to attend, saying too many agenda items were being discussed behind closed doors.
Their refusal to attend drew the ire of deputy mayor Dave Donaldson, who in a media release issued by the council called for their resignations.
Mr Donaldson was acting mayor at the time while Steve Chadwick was in China attending a tourism conference with councillor Trevor Maxwell.
It was the first time since 2008 a meeting had been postponed because of the lack of a quorum.
In the 2010-2013 term of the council there were three committees - infrastructure services, economic and regulatory services, and corporate and customers services. Meetings also included the Te Arawa standing committee, the executive committee and the full council.
During that term, up to and including June 6, 2013, there were a total of 183 meetings that included 66 confidential items.
In this term of the council there are two committees of council - operations and monitoring and strategy, policy and finance, plus regular full council meetings.
During this term, up to and including June 2, there have been 98 meetings with a total of 95 confidential items.
Mr Kent, Mr Bentley and Mr McVicker all said in their view their stance had been vindicated by the figures. They said there were often good reasons for holding meetings in confidential sessions, but in recent times there were far too many decisions being made behind closed doors.
"We are elected by the people of Rotorua to represent their best interests so we should be talking openly far more often than we have been," Mr Bentley said.
"When the doors are closed the meetings are an entirely different beast. This council is becoming known as the secrecy machine and this needs to change."
Mr McVicker said the figures proved what they had been saying all along. "This council should take note of this information and seriously reconsider having so many items in confidential sessions."
Mr Kent questioned whether confidential sessions were being used for the right reasons or just "when some members don't want people to know what's going on".
"If they don't want people to hear our arguments, then that's just not on."
But, Mrs Chadwick said the figures only proved the council did things differently, especially with regard to council portfolios where a lot of the confidential matters came from.
"We are in a very different environment where we are experiencing unprecedented growth. A lot of these items contain sensitive commercial information and I see that as a good sign for Rotorua."
She said the vast majority of decisions made confidentially were released to the public shortly after being made.
Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said every decision to discuss an item confidentially was voted on.
Total meetings: 183
Total confidential items: 66
* Up to and including June 6, 2013
Council meetings 2013-2016:
Total meetings: 98
Total confidential items: 95
* Up to and including June 2, 2016
Main reasons for confidential discussions
- Section 7(2)(i)
Enable any local authority holding the information to carry on, without prejudice or disadvantage, negotiations (including commercial and industrial negotiations).
- Section 7(2)(b)(ii)
Protect information where the making available of the information would be likely unreasonably to prejudice the commercial position of the person who supplied or who is the subject of the information.
- Section 7(2)(a)
Protect the privacy of natural persons, including that of deceased natural persons.
- Section 7(2)(g)
To enable the local authority to maintain legal professional privilege.
- Section 7(2)(a)(i)
To enable the Local Authority to deliberate in private on its decision or recommendation in any proceedings where a right of appeal lies to any Court or tribunal against the final decision of the local authority in those
- Section 7(2)(f)(i)
Maintain effective conduct of public affairs through free and frank expression of opinions by or between or to members or officers or employees of any local authority in the course of their duty.
- Section 7(2)(h)
Enable any local authority holding the information to carry out, without prejudice or disadvantage, commercial activities.
- Rotorua Lakes Council meeting standing orders