Committee Decision-Making

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The Environment and Policy Committee meeting I attended this week was a great example of how slack politicians can increase social problems.

Last month the Committee was presented with a paper advising them that the Law Commission is undertaking a review of alcohol legislation and the issue has considerable impact on our local communities.

The Committee agreed that a public meeting would be hosted by GDC to workshop the issues with interested people including representatives from owners of liquor outlets, health services,  Police, community workers, Council staff and whoever else was interested.

Pat Seymour and Andy Cranston were the only two Councillors to attend the workshop along with the other people mentioned above. The meeting over two hours was based on good information, followed by healthy debate that arrived at consensus on each one of many points ensuring Council staff drafting the submission had confidence that the process had been open and thorough.

People attending the meeting used the Law Commission’s 280 page discussion document that presents the hard facts as the starting point for commentary on the issues. Local examples were used to back up the evidence presented in the discussion document and it was hard to find any situations that contradicted the document’s findings.

A submission based on the agreements reached at the workshop was presented back to the Committee this week at which four of the six members decided to vote against the submission.

Only one of the four Councillors objecting had her copy of the Discussion Document present and based on their comments and criticisms it seemed obvious that either two or three of the other Councillors had not even read the document. Those Councillors that had not read the Discussion Document, had also not participated in the public workshop and had not contacted staff after they received the draft submission to discuss any matters of concern. As a result of their problems with the submission the Councillors were allowed to have a private session with staff the next day to take out the parts of the submission they were not happy with.

With due respect to Councillor Seymour, who has shown great leadership on this issue and who has had to deal with poor behaviour from the majority in this case, I don’t think the outcome was the best we could have had and the community has been let down again by those making important decisions on our behalf.

The problem I have with this kind of process is that it rewards laziness and arrogance amongst some Councillors. As a result, the majority of Committee Members (who did not take up the opportunities to participate in an agreed process) have dictated that a much watered-down submission is going to be put before the full Council for their consideration one day before the deadline for submissions. While the GDC submission is only one of hundreds, it should have been able to promote well considered options that do justice to the level of concern our community has about access to and use of alcohol, particularly amongst young people – and now it will not.

I hope more members of the public find an hour or two to sit in on one of these meetings and reflect on the quality of decisions that are being made on our behalf. I believe we can do much better than what we have at present.

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