Council secrecy baffling

By Heather McCracken


TODAY we can tell you about events funded by the Masterton District Council, after details were released on Friday.

These funding decisions have been being talked about in council meetings for weeks, but behind closed doors. We've been asking about them since a public-excluded meeting on September 26, and were given various reasons for them being withheld - a move councillors left to the discretion of the chief executive.

On Wednesday the council talked about events funding behind closed doors again, and again their decisions were withheld. Council staff said they needed to notify applicants first, a process that could take a week.

That seemed odd when we learned some of the grants involved were for events (the freediving world-record attempt, the Masterton Host Lions fireworks display) that were already taking place. On Thursday council staff gave another reason for the delay: "When we are spending $105,000 we have a right to release it in a way that makes the most impact."

Actually, no, you don't. Nothing in legislation protects a council's right to make a PR splash. But the law does obligate local bodies to act in a transparent manner.

I'm not making a fuss about the events funding because I think there's any hidden controversy - quite the opposite. I think it's just one of the ordinary, everyday decisions of the council, and that's why I'm baffled by the secrecy.

I haven't heard any sensible reason why it needed to be secret. The decisions could have been made openly, just like at other councils, so we all can understand the process, and how and why ratepayers' money is being spent.

If there were details, such as how events were organised or funded, that applicants did not want made public then they should not have asked the public to write them a cheque.

And councillors: how can voters know you're representing their interests when your views and decisions are hidden?


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