Dr Robin Gwynn's recent win in the High Court against Napier City Council over how Easter trading was consulted on should be a wake up call for all councils.
At our recent long term plan hearings, one community member resiled against Hawke's Bay Regional Council's consultation processes. The verbal submission was subsequently shared on social media with some 18,000 views. I think this really says something about how the community views consultation.
Under the Local Government Act, councils are obliged to offer a 'preference' on any options that are being consulted on. To my mind this leads to the community forming the opinion that submitting is a waste of time because if you disagree with the preferred option you won't be listened to even though we are obliged to approach every decision with an open mind.
The strength of this feeling is, of course, dependant on which council you are submitting to.
In defence of HBRC, one of the things I have noticed this term is a far greater willingness to listen to opposing views from the community. And not only listen but also make an honest attempt to understand the opposing points of view.
It has certainly led to some interesting debates and changing of minds.
However, I don't think this is enough. Personally I would like to see more community engagement, rather than simply consultation.
Bring the people's views in earlier to discuss the big picture. Make sure we are going in the right direction before we seek consultation on the way forward.
Recognise the difference between consultation and engagement.
A good example of how engagement could work would have to be the question of paying for the Port expansion.
I think the first question the community needs to get to grips with is: does the expansion need to take place? Certainly it's the first question I asked. It is unfortunate that I have yet to see any study or reports that answers this question to my satisfaction.
It could well be that the expansion is necessary but without some concrete evidence I am unwilling to simply accept the assurances of the Port that it needs to be done. Show me the evidence is all I ask, it's the least that the community deserves.
In saying that I have been assured that such evidence is coming and that I trust it will be comprehensive. It will be an interesting debate to have.
The question of how we fund any expansion then becomes somewhat academic and is what should be consulted on. Meantime let's get the decision making processes put in a logical order. Do we need it first and then how do we do it.
The cynic in me says that this was one of the biggest failings of the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme. It became very easy to criticise the dam because at the end of the day the community never really had the discussion about did we need it. Especially when there were plenty of less expensive, viable options available.
So this brings us back to the consequences of Dr Gwynn's court case.
Until councils are genuine about seeking the views of their community at the right time, and by using robust processes, then there will remain an element of distrust in our councils.
The feeling that councils have already made up their minds is, in my opinion, genuine.
It certainly reflects the opinion I held before being elected to council and it is a culture that HBRC is doing it's best to change.
Central Hawke's Bay District Council lad the way with project "Thrive". A process we could all emulate.
Which leads to another of my little bugbears. The easiest way to give the public confidence that we approach decisions with an open mind is to be transparent about our decision-making processes.
A big part of this is making council meetings available to the public by having them broadcast.
We do this at HBRC and it's fascinating how much feedback I receive on different debates we have had.
You all have an opportunity 24/7 to listen to what all HBRC councillors are thinking on particular issues.
Unfortunately this is not the case elsewhere. Given the low cost of technology today it can hardly be the expense of broadcasting that stops other councils from doing the same.
I think we are entitled to ask the question why aren't meetings being broadcast? Is it really the cost or is it that there is something to hide? Food for thought.
* Paul Bailey is a Hawke's Bay Regional Councillor.