Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick says she has 'no plans' to open secret council workshops following a pleading open letter from a resident.
Justin Adams, a consultant, wrote to Chadwick, the councillors and chief executive Geoff Williams on June 9 imploring them to open the closed-door meetings to the public and "show the citizens of Rotorua there is nothing to hide".
He had previously complained to the Ombudsman about the council's refusal to provide detailed information on discussions in the council's secret workshops.
Local Democracy Reporting revealed in March the council held all 37 of its workshops from 2018 to 2020 behind closed doors.
Adams' letter asked for the council to pass a resolution at its next meeting to hold workshops in public and suggested the workshops could go into a public-excluded session where necessary.
He challenged the council to show citizens any perception of the council conducting business in "secret" was incorrect.
"Show the citizens of Rotorua there is nothing to hide, and that 'Tatau Tatau – We Together' is not just a PR phrase but an actual council philosophy.
"Rotorua can be an economic powerhouse if you bring the public along with you."
Responding to the letter in a written statement via the council communications team, Chadwick told Local Democracy Reporting that forums - or workshops - remained "a very important, legitimate and appropriate tool for policy and strategy development".
That was to provide direction to council staff and help ensure decision-making by elected members was well-informed.
"Matters that are covered in forums become public and there are no plans at this time to make any change," she said.
"Mr Adams is entitled to his personal view. [The] council must have mechanisms like these types of forums to discuss issues."
A council spokeswoman said opening workshops would require a review of the council's 2020 governance statement.
"Any review would need to be initiated by the mayor."
The governance statement said informal meetings or forums - that is, meetings where formal decisions are not made - are to "brief elected members on emerging issues, or get an indication of councillor preference before initiating a policy or project".
They could also provide an opportunity for the council to develop ideas and be informed of the options and potential issues.
"The Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act in relation to meeting establishment does not apply to forums."
From 2018 to 2020, 31 councils across the country held 937 workshops, with 737 not open to the public.
Rotorua Lakes Council held all of its 37 workshops in that time out of the public eye, Tauranga City Council held 55 workshops in public out of 62, and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council held two workshops out of 39 in public.
Hamilton City Council was the only council that held all of its workshops in public.
In that report, Victoria University public law expert Dr Dean Knight said secret meetings were a "troubling black hole" in the local government transparency framework.
"Deliberative committees are where the action is and we should not put the spurious label of a workshop on it to avoid the public gaze."
In the same story, the Local Government New Zealand president Stuart Crosby - a former mayor of Tauranga - said workshops "should be open to the public" to avoid the usually incorrect perception of a council "hiding something".
The Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act says local government meetings must be open to the public, but can move into a public-excluded section for certain reasons specified in the law.
Among those reasons are the protection of the privacy of an individual, or commercial sensitivity.
Workshops, forums, briefings or informal meetings are not covered by the law, as while deliberation and discussion may take place, formal decisions - where a vote is taken - are not and cannot be made.