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Who to believe? The Office of Local Government or an interpretation of the Council GM

Dear Beagle Editor, I recently received a response from ESC’s General Manager in regard to advice I forwarded to her from the Office of Local Government(OLG) regarding Public Forum sessions. I am left feeling most puzzled as the General Manager has questioned my “interpretation” and says the OLG has ‘verbally’ agreed with her ‘view’. I have emailed the GM refuting her ‘interpretation.’ This email is included at the end. I therefore offer up, to Beagle readers, the following correspondence for their consternation and conclusions. WHAT DO YOU THINK? TO OLG 24th JUNE 2019: I asked OLG two questions: 1. As Public Forum is a “meeting of council ......... whose membership comprises only of councillors,” exactly the same as a council meeting, why isn’t it required to be webcast? 2. If public forum is not held as part of a council meeting, does the Code of Meeting Practice legally apply to it? OLG RESPONSE 12 JULY 2019:(sent to GM 16th July) “I can confirm that not all gatherings of councillors constitute formal meetings of the council for the purposes of the Local Government Act 1993 and the Model Meeting Code. If a council decides not to hold a public forum as part of its formal council meetings, then the forum will not constitute “a meeting of the council” for the purposes of the Model Meeting Code and the Council’s adopted code of meeting practice. This means that the rules that are prescribed under council’s adopted code of meeting practice that apply to formal meetings of the council or committees that comprise wholly of councillors, will not apply to the public forum.” GENERAL MANAGERS RESPONSE 1st AUGUST “It should be noted that the letter must be read as a whole letter and not just the last paragraph. As such, it appears that you may have misinterpreted the letter. If read out of context, i.e. just the last sentence, the letter indicates that Public Forum is not covered under Council’s Code of Meeting Practice. By way of background, under section 360 of the Local Government Act, Council can add any non-mandatory provisions in its code of meeting practice. An excerpt of the Act is below: 360 Conduct of meetings of councils and committees

(1)  The regulations may prescribe a model code of meeting practice for the conduct of meetings of councils and committees of councils of which all the members are councillors.(2)  The model code may contain both mandatory and non-mandatory provisions.(3)  A council must, not later than 12 months after an ordinary election of councillors, adopt a code of meeting practice that incorporates the mandatory provisions of the model code prescribed by the regulations. The adopted code may also incorporate the non-mandatory provisions and other provisions.(4)  A code adopted or amended by the council must not contain provisions that are inconsistent with the mandatory provisions.(5)  A council and a committee of the council of which all the members are councillors must conduct its meetings in accordance with the code of meeting practice adopted by it.

With this in mind, the rules applying to Public Forum and Public Access are included in Council’s Code of Meeting Practice and therefore this document governs these sessions. Further, Council has received verbal advice from the OLG relating to this letter and OLG have verbally confirmed the rules governing Council’s Public Forum and Public Access sessions are covered under Council’s Code of Meeting Practice.” EMAIL TO GENERAL MANAGER 2nd AUGUST General Manager, Thank you for your response regarding the OLG’s advice that I forwarded to you concerning public forum sessions. You state that the OLG letter “must be read as a whole letter and not just the last paragraph.......... If read out of context, i.e. just the last sentence, the letter indicates that public forum is not covered under Council’s Code of Meeting Practice.” In response, I can assure you that I did not “misinterpret the letter” as I took nothing “out of context.” It is unfortunate that you were not aware that the OLG’s advice was in regard to 2 questions I sought answers to. As such, you may have misinterpreted the advice.  My questions to the OLG were: 1. As Public Forum is a “meeting of council ......... whose membership comprises only of councillors,” exactly the same as a council meeting, why isn’t it required to be webcast? 2. If public forum is not held as part of a council meeting, does the Code of Meeting Practice legally apply to it? OLG Response: “I can confirm that not all gatherings of councillors constitute formal meetings of the council for the purposes of the Local Government Act 1993 and the Model Meeting Code.” This answers my 1st question. It tells me that Public Forum is not considered to be a formal meeting of council, under the LGA or the Model Meeting Code, and as such is not required to be webcast. “If council decides NOT to hold a public forum as part of its formal council meetings, then the forum WILL NOT constitute ‘a meeting of the council’ for the purposes of the Model Meeting Code and the council’s adopted code of meeting practice.This means that the rules that are prescribed under council’s adopted code of meeting practice that apply to formal meetings of the council or committees that comprise wholly of councillors, WILL NOT APPLY to the public forum.” This answers my 2nd question. It tells me that council’s Meeting Code does not apply to Public Forum as it does NOT constitute ‘a meeting of council.’ In your response you also state, “under Section 360 of the Local Government Act, Council can add any non-mandatory provisions in its code of meeting practice.” I must remind you that Section 360 of the LGA is titled, ‘Conduct of Meetings of Council and Committees.’ And as the OLG has advised:* “not all gatherings of councillors constitute formal meetings of the council for the purposes of the LGA 1993......”* and ESC’s Public Forum does NOT constitute ‘a meeting of council’ then this section of the LGA does not apply. It would only apply if ESC’s public forum was part of its formal council meetings. In the interest of transparency and probity, I respectfully request a written record of the “verbal advice” provided to you by the OLG. Yours Sincerely Patricia Gardiner Deua River Valley


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