Whangarei District councillors have been issued more than 2500 pages of confidential information this term, with one criticising the degree of secrecy around some discussions.
The 14-member council has held 68 public-excluded workshops since the 2013 elections, on top of its 134 public sub-committee, committee and full council meetings. Confidential workshops allowed councillors to discuss matters of commercial sensitivity, those that could breach personal privacy or prejudice legal proceedings. Standing orders " the protocol surrounding meetings " was suspended to allow councillors and staff to discuss, among other things, "the background, history and implication of matters", a council spokeswoman said.
However, councillor Stuart Bell said there were "a good number of issues" discussed in workshops that should be in the public arena.
"I don't agree with having to make decisions on behalf of our community when, because an issue has been deemed confidential, the discussion I can have with the community on it is somewhat limited."
Mr Bell had expressed his concerns at a number of public council meetings. He spoke to the Advocate following an Official Information Act request into councillor attendance rates at the workshops.
He attended 47 of the 68 workshops this term, which was the lowest attendance rate. Staff time could be better spent elsewhere, he said.
"So far I have over 2500 pages of confidential information staff have put together for workshops ... in a number of cases the information provided is more than sufficient to inform me of the issue without having to attend a workshop," he said.
Deputy Mayor Sharon Morgan said workshops were fact-finding as opposed to decision-making exercises.
"No resolutions are made, this more informal process allows councillors and staff to identify, clarify and outline important facts that inform further discussion at a full council meeting."