I've been around long enough to remember a time when our elected members in community boards had the opportunity to be fully heard by those who voted for them.

As a cadet reporter still in my teenage years, a community board meeting was a great source of information and news.

Attendance was not necessarily encouraged, but these meetings - sometimes held during the evening - were busy, with community members listening to hearty debate.

Voters got to hear where their elected members stood on an issue of relevance to them and their town.

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They also got to hear from local government staff and experts about the complexities our elected members face, in making sometimes tough decisions.

This is no longer the case.

Workshops are held prior to meetings, and this is where the "free and frank" discussion takes place.

Because these workshops are not classified as meetings under the Local Government Act, there is no public attendance and journalists like me are not allowed in.

It's true that no decisions are made at community board workshops. But that is not the point.

I believe, after two decades of observing and reporting on local government decision-making, that it would be different if free and frank discussion was open, too.

Projects would not end up so often shelved after expenditure or embroiled in costly legal fights.

I hold on to the idea that we should be living in a democracy where we have influence over how our communities are shaped.

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If important discussions and open debate were not held "behind closed doors", at least it might give the perception that this is the case.

What do you think? Email me alison.smith@nzme.co.nz