Environmental / Resource Management

New Rules for Holding Meetings During Lock-Down

Many, if not all, local authorities have hastily put in place measures to authorise Council business to be undertaken by an emergency committee or the Chief Executive during the Covid-19 lock-down.  However, there are some matters that cannot be delegated, as set out in clause 32(1) Schedule 7 of the Local Government Act 2002.  These include important decisions coming up in the next couple of months such as the need to adopt an Annual Plan and make a rate before 30 June 2020.

While a number of local authorities have in place provisions in standing orders for meetings to be conducted with audio or audiovisual links for some participating members, clause 25A(4) has precluded a member who is not physically present at the meeting as being counted as present for the purposes of forming a quorum.  This has meant that only a limited number of members can participate in a meeting by audio or audiovisual link, and of course, no full Council meeting could be conducted in this manner. 

Recognising the desirability of allowing meetings to be conducted by audio or audiovisual links during the current emergency, and at the urging of the local government sector, the COVID-19 Response (Urgent Management Measures) Legislation Act 2020 was passed last week and received Royal Assent on 25 March 2020.  It makes changes to, inter alia, Schedule 7 of the Local Government Act 2002 and Part 7 of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 that facilitate the conduct of meetings by audio or audiovisual links as long as the Epidemic Preparedness (COVID-19) Notice 2020 remains in effect.

A member of a local authority or its committees now has the right to attend any meeting by means of an audio or audiovisual link regardless of any provision in standing orders on the use of such links, and notwithstanding that the use of such a link has not first been included in standing orders.  Any member attending a meeting by audio or audiovisual link will be counted as present for the purposes of a quorum for that meeting.

In addition, the requirement to make any agenda and associated reports as well as minutes of meetings available to the public can be met by posting such documents on a local authority Internet site.  The requirement for a meeting to be open to the public can be met by live streaming the audio or video of the meeting and making it available after the meeting either on the local authority Internet site or by written summary on that site.  It is noted that the provision for live streaming is preceded by the words, “if it is reasonably practicable”, which we interpret to mean that if no live streaming facility is available, a local authority will still be compliant with these provisions if it complies with the post-meeting requirement to post an audio or video recording or a written summary of the meeting on its Internet site.

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