Sun, 24 May 2015 at 2:43 p.m.
A Massey researcher is concerned that some local councils are gagging their elected members and stifling free speech.
Source: Massey University Te Kunenga Ki Purehuroa
Created: 02/12/2014 | Last updated: 16/12/2014
Councils’ conduct codes gag elected members
Dr Catherine Strong from the School Communication, Journalism and Marketing, says there is a disturbing paragraph creeping into some councils’ operating policies.
“It basically prevents elected members talking to the media about anything negative within their council. This includes council decisions, policies and overall reputations,” she says.
The research will be presented at the Journalism Education Association of New Zealand Conference in Christchurch on Thursday, and is a content analysis of codes of conduct of all 67 city and district councils in New Zealand.
While most councils clearly stated that elected members have the right to talk freely to the media (with obvious restrictions around confidential information and employment practices), the research found that 10 councils (15 per cent) restrict elected members giving critical opinion to the media.
This amounts to gagging the elected members – the very people who are representing the community, Dr Strong says. “They are not meant to be spin doctors for the council.” She suspects newly-elected councillors approve the entire 4000 word code of conduct without scrutinising the wording of the small media section within it.
Dunedin City Council – Standing Orders (PDF, 1018 KB)
12 Aug 2014: The Standing Orders set out rules for the conduct meetings of the Dunedin City Council and includes the Code of Conduct for Elected Members, as adopted at the inaugural Council meeting Oct 2010.
█ For more, enter the terms *code*, *vandervis*, *naturaljustice*, and *citifleet* in the search box at right.
Posted by Elizabeth Kerr
9 responses to “Dunedin City not the only council with a code of silence”
‘ “It basically prevents elected members talking to the media about anything negative within their council. This includes council decisions, policies and overall reputations,” she says.’
It’s hard enough working out who to vote for already, when candidates’ pre-election self-portraits are so different from the face they reveal once elected, eg Cull’s stadium “only enough extra $$ to make it work” – didn’t bother pointing out that just as he had said at the huge anti-stadium meeting, it was a broken scheme from the get-go and would never work therefore he was pledging to chuck ratepayers’ money at it for as long as his hands could reach into our pockets.
Without being allowed to know who resists imprudent, barmy, gullible-fool and -tool, and well organised gimme-gimme pressure groups, we voters are getting the kind of quote marks + irony “DEMOCRACY” /qm +i that makes Putin’s Russia look classy.
I actually read the DCC Code of Conduct with respect to councillors’ rights to make public statements. It has a number of odd features. For example, 33.4 When an elected member is making a statement that is contrary to a council decision or council policy, then the member must make it clear that his or her views represent a majority. (ends)
Does this make sense? Or has the critical word ‘not’ been accidentally omitted? Does anyone care?
Another point is that a councillor is not allowed to bring into question the competence and integrity of council staff, making the assumption that all staff members do in fact HAVE competence and integrity.
Councillors are allowed to comment in their own right (distinct from as representatives of the council) on the effectiveness of any policy. The way this is expressed rather supports the ‘muzzling’ contention; that only good news is allowed and perhaps no comments are allowed on any ineffectiveness.
But things don’t look too rosy when I read that councillors are NOT allowed to comment on the management or implementation of any policy. This does seem to me to be taking the governance/ management separation too far. It really means that no-one is ever going to comment publicly on the council’s implementation and management of policy because all the rules for everyone, full council, mayor and councillors individually, say that all concerns must be referred to the Chief Executive to sort out. So IMO lack of accountability resulting from what amounts to censorship, in turn, results in managerialism, rather than democracy. Residents had just better hope their city has a competent and honest Chief Executive and, unfortunately, there’s nothing they can do about this but hope. Regarding management and implementation of policy, they have no power to do anything, no power to know anything and elected reps individually have no right to tell them.
This system needs changing. I think it concentrates too much power in the role of one person – the Chief Executive.
“Another point is that a councillor is not allowed to bring into question the competence and integrity of council staff, making the assumption that all staff members do in fact HAVE competence and integrity.”
When I got to that part I realised closing the psychiatric institutions had indeed achieved what the politicians promised. To think I’d believed it was cynical pennypinching!
– Yes, the people who used to be in-patients have become fully participating members of the community, and now instead of making wicker whatnots they produce stuff like the above.
I thought that democracy meant free speech
No, today it means being allowed to vote for dictatorship. Most effective version has no other choices available on the ballot paper. Second-best, any who didn’t belong to the ruling cabal to begin with are good-cop, bad-copped into “behaving”. Eg no chairmanship or even membership of committees, ie reduced capacity to contribute fresh ideas, and loss of salary add-ons. Also rigorous use of any available rules to censure them, even if the rules have to be stretched and twisted fot the purpose. Most of the new ones fall into line pretty quickly.
Occasionally there’s a maverick with too much courage, too much independence of mind, to compromise their integrity for an easy life.
This report is timely for us here in Dunedin after witnessing the LV Code of Conduct charade.
The comment that ten councils have very strict gagging orders is a concern, but this kind of thing can backfire and the consequence can be resentment by councillors with leaking of information likely to be more common. The situation evolves into a kind of cat and mouse game between those in the inner circle and those outside.
In the end it is all rather messy. Not every elected member likes to be controlled.
This is going to be a tough one for us Dunedinites, but I’d like your help with the above, the prize is a new iPad, and when they found $2 million left of the $20 million and they are going to use it to replace a few broken paving stones, I dropped my iPad and cracked the screen. So come on whatifers, What is the silliest thing the DCC or one of its representatives has done this year.
Is it spending $20 mill plus interest keeping the stadium staff employed?
Is it believing that their debt burden is OK because it is backed up by assets like ancient sewer pipes, a loss making stadium AND a water reticulation system in dire need of replacement.
Is it employing more staff when they are already have 50% more than Tauranga-
Over to you.
Cars, brilliant call. I’m taking a deep breath as I consider how to equate total losses for the Dunedin Town Hall Redevelopment project…. with how money was laundered…. substitution of inferior materials and finishings for items specified under contract. With project faults under discovery amounting to greater than 1,000 by some distance. No dead man to blame at the council department concerned. An iPad seems like a really cheap prize, considering !! Millions of ratepayer dollars sucked up by the unscrupulous. More than invoice fraud, more than backhanders. What a jolly time, this running in tandem with some of Citifleet.
Elizabeth, we must move on, no recriminations, no accountability.
Great, I say, now no need for the whole accounting department!
Probably no need for managers either.
Probably no need for pesky overseeing councillors either.