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Never easier – zooming to the council

by Mark Johnston
As a local government nerd, I know exactly when Wellington City Council meetings take place and know that it’s possible to speak at them if you have a particular interest in the topics on the agenda. For example, recently the Council discussed reactions to Covid-19, sea defences for Owhiro Bay and the plan for the Karori Events Centre.

Before lockdown, I spoke at a Council meeting on a rainy Wednesday morning. I had to leave a work meeting early, dashing across town on foot to get to The Terrace on time. I was allowed 5 minutes to speak in front of 15 faces, followed by a questions from some of those friendly faces, after which I returned to work.

It was difficult for me to attend, requiring an understanding employer, a flexible work schedule and the nerve to get up and speak before people who have earned the votes and respect of their community. For many Wellingtonians, attending a Council meeting in person has been impossible.

Since lockdown commenced, all Council meetings are done via Zoom.

The excellent in-house Democracy Services team have taken public participation online too. This means you can contribute to Council meetings from your own home, workplace, cafe, breakroom, bus driver’s cab, tramping hut, beach, lecture theatre, anywhere!

I spoke at a meeting a few weeks ago, it took less than ten minutes and reading from my notes was much easier. The experience was far less stressful and time-consuming than attending Council offices in person.

After lockdown is over and the threat of Covid-19 has subsided, the Council intends to continue offering public participation via Zoom.

Suddenly, the demographic of people able to speak at Council meetings has dramatically expanded. People outside of the CBD ‘bubble’ are now much more able to have their views heard by their representatives. The Wellington City Council needs to be pushing the fact that local democracy just became far more open.

Whether you agree with what the Council is doing or not, improving access to air your views to your Councillors has to be a step forward for a people focused city.

Mark Johnston is a local democracy nerd and co-Chair of Cycle Wellington

WCC Meetings Calendar: https://wellington.govt.nz/your-council/meetings/meetings-calendar

WCC – Speaking at meetings: https://wellington.govt.nz/your-council/meetings/speaking-at-meetings

1 comment:

  1. Benoit Pette, 8. May 2020, 13:36

    Well done Mark. I too know that speaking at the Council table requires some guts, as all of them know each other, they’re on their land, you’re a visitor, etc. In short, as much as it’s exhilarating and an experience, it is also stressful. The ability to join remotely, almost as if you were making a phone call, is certainly a big enabler for greater engagement. I wish now the democratic process went one step further: while people can engage, comment and question during a meeting, they should also be able to take part of the final votes. I am not suggesting they replace the councillors, but the public vote could, for example, count for one or two councillors. If not anyone from the public, what about recognised members of the communities? There could be a few hundreds of them, identified and verified. No doubt the logistics would need to be thought through, but I reckon this could take democracy and engagement to its next level.