Three to-dos for Tauranga City Council in 2019 from the perspective of a council reporter.
1. Cull some rules
Were you paying attention last year?
During which hours of what time of year is long-lining banned on the beach? Where in the city is begging and rough sleeping banned within what distance of what kind of premises? What distance must your chicken coop be from your boundary? What sort of materials are you allowed in a beach bonfire? How many dogs can you walk on a lead at once?
This council proposed and made a lot of new rules in 2018. It loves rules. And rulers. Tauranga's elected officials have never met a legal grey area they couldn't make blackish and whitish with a shiny new rule/r.Can home-based prostitutes be required to keep their doors closed? An actual question asked in a council meeting last year. Other councils have done away with prostitution bylaws, considering the activity sufficiently regulated by rules around home businesses and nuisance. Seems like a sensible approach to me.
I know they must balance order and freedom but some of the minutiae addressed with regulation boggles my mind. I propose a cull of over-prescribed rules and resistance to the temptations to make too many more.
2. Better consultation
The council sought your opinion on a lot of things last year. Sometimes it did that well, other times not so much, in my view. But overall, there was too much of it. I think consultation fatigue sets in, and that's bad for our democracy.
Public consultation can be a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. The council found itself in some jams last year both because of poorly conceived consultations, and when the final vote went against the majority public view.
But that's politics. Public consensus doesn't happen, hard calls have to be made.
Elected members must strike a balance between hearing the community - not just the squeakiest wheels - and doing the job they were put there to do: govern and lead.
Some members are fond of giving their vote to projects "for consultation" even if they have serious reservations, to give the public a say. Having watched a few of these go through the process, there's more than a whiff of pandering at times as consultation statistics can be tortured to support any view one wishes.
So let's prioritise genuine consultation over that done for the sake of appearance.
3. Make more decisions in public
Tauranga City Council makes a fair few decisions behind closed doors. Anything from signing a contract worth millions to hearing a pitch for an aquarium can be put into a confidential session that means the public - media included - get booted out of the meeting.
The decision on whether an item needs to be heard behind closed doors is made by senior leadership before the meeting and is rarely questioned by councillors.
Late last year they took the unusual step, after media requests, of hearing information about a controversial funding decision behind closed doors, then having a discussion and vote in an open session.
I think they should do more of this. It was a more transparent process that still allowed for necessary details to be kept private.