Mayoral candidate Rob McCann says a new Ombudsman investigation of eight councils should be a wakeup call for Kāpiti Coast District to stop its current practice of secret meetings without minutes or any transparency for the public.

Currently the Kapiti Coast District Council holds briefings for councillors on most matters leaving councillors often unsure what is public information and what is confidential. Presentations by staff are not supplied in advance, so there is no opportunity to think about the issues, the wider implications of decisions, or even to research subjects. Often councillors are not permitted to even print out the presentations.

“I say enough. The secrecy needs to stop. Holding meetings behind closed doors creates distrust in the community and it avoids information being captured by the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act as there are no formal minutes or decisions. It just isn’t acceptable in a modern democracy.”

“I’ve raised all these issues and up till now there’s no appetite for change from the current leadership team. There’s an attitude that staff create the policy, and our role is to sign it off, or occasionally say no and amend it. 

“I disagree. Councillors should have their hands on the steering wheel and make decisions for, and on behalf of, our community. Too often elected officials are simply on a pre-determined course with an illusion of responsibility. 

“Briefings are often used to hold free and frank conversations between councillors on gnarly issues and that’s great. But that’s not a reason under the act to make those meetings secret. Confidentiality should only be reserved for strictly legal, privacy or commercial reasons.”

“In a briefing we are often expected to make a decision called a ‘steer’. Most recently we were given a briefing on the Better Off Funding Package. In this sweetener deal with councils, the Government has offered $5.26million now, and a further $15.79 million in 2024 as part of the Three Waters package.

“Staff briefed councillors at a briefing, however, no advance notice was given that we were effectively deciding how millions of dollars could be apportioned to projects, and there was no opportunity to consult with each other, or the ratepayers which is why I’ve launched a survey canvassing our communities’ priorities .

“We’ve seen the beginnings of huge blowouts on projects, with the ratepayers cost of the Gateway now projected to be $5.4 million, a whopping 116% increase in cost to the council, which is why I’ve said that project no longer stacks up. Nearly five and a half million is on the table with this Better Off Funding, and we should be publicly talking about the projects that are eligible (and that are in the annual or long-term plan) and deciding as a community where to spend the funds. Instead, the process is taking place behind closed doors once again, which is why the Chief Ombudsman is investigating eight councils.

“We need a transparent council that listens to the public, not one that does some of its most important work in secret with the cameras off,” says Councillor McCann