Maverick Masterton District councillor Brent Goodwin yesterday failed in his bid to lift what he sees as a veil of secrecy over debate round the council table, despite being supported by three council colleagues.

Mr Goodwin had put a notice of motion to a special council meeting calling on councillors to agree to setting up a small sub-committee to explore ways and means of improving transparency.

This came in the wake of Mr Goodwin going public on what he saw as far too much council secrecy involving debate and discussion on many major issues being done behind
closed doors.

Yesterday his motion was voted down 7-4 with support only coming from councillors Gary Caffell, David Holmes and Chris Peterson.

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Despite the loss all was not lost for Mr Goodwin and the faction that supported him, as it was generally agreed council task groups, which have traditionally been closed to the press and public could become open.

In a wide-ranging debate in front of a small public gallery - unusual in itself as council meetings are rarely attended by the general public - most councillors rejected the idea they retreated too often from public debate.

Mr Goodwin said it had "certainly become apparent to some of us" that topics which sparked controversial debate were kept out of public earshot. The council, he said, had fallen back on meetings with the press and public excluded along with workshops and ask group meetings and it was now time for "a committment to more openness".

Mr Caffell said the amalgamation debates were a case in point.

"These were mostly done in committee or workshops and yet we were asking the public to make decisions.

"How could they?"

He said another example was "in-house" discussions regarding the Lansdowne upgrade which would cost between $300,000 and $400,000.

"That should be a whole of Masterton discussion," Mr Caffell said.

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The Homebush sewerage treatment plant was also mentioned in conjunction with an agreement with BECA, the details of which he had never been told.

MrCaffell said as a media man with 50 years experience he found it hard to understand the naivety of councillors who only wanted to read good things.

"In 50 years I have never come across a council which misunderstood the role of the media as much as this one," he said.

Mr Holmes said he thought the council was too secretive. "I make no bones about it. "Looking back on Homebush a lot was kept secret, and people want to know how the chief executive's salary increase was voted on," he said.

Deputy mayor Graeme McClymont said he was quite happy with the way council business was done and that Mr Goodwin appeared to live in a parallel universe.

As far as the BECA agreement was concerned it had been a confidential one bound by legal restraints.

"We can't have everything out in the open, we just can't. That's the way it works," Mr
McClymont said.

Jonathan Hooker said in his early days as a councillor there had been " a lot of politicking
and I disliked it"

He said one of the big changes over the years was employment law and councils could find themselves on "dangerous ground" on employment matters leaving themselves open to personal grievance claims.

Pip Hannon said she didn't believe the council hid anything.

"There is always room for everyone to speak and we have high quality officers. It wouldn't bother me at all if task groups were open to the public."

Mark Harris said he could not see what council was not being transparent about. Sensitivity surrounded some issues, he said.

The BECA agreement could not be made public, and if the council had breached that it could be sued.

"We do our best to inform the public as much as possible," he said.

Mayor Lyn Patterson said reasons why council went into public exclusion had not changed over the years.

It was always done to protect the rights of individuals and protect personal information.

She said at each council meeting members were asked to approve matters intended to be discussed with the public excluded, giving them an opportunity to contest whether that should be so.