The communications subcommittee meeting was held on 27 March 2014. Councillor Bryant submitted his apologies. All other subcommittee members (Cr Edgar, Cr Bouillir, Cr Dowler, and myself) were in attendance.
The agenda for the meeting included: (1) a broadening of the councils engagement policy, (2) various reports from staff in relation to online and communications activity, (3) the completion of outstanding action items (including a simplified logo that council printers could use), and (4) the disestablishment of this subcommittee.
An expanded engagement approach
Council staff had proposed broadening its engagement policy. The underlying reason was two fold. First, there is a statutory requirement to have a consultation policy incorporated within the TDC’s Governance Statement. Secondly, the council anted to improve its engagement with the community. As such, the proposed policy statement went “beyond” the current legislative requirements. I think the word “beyond” was possibly a poor choice of words to describe what is intended, and perhaps words suggesting a “smarter” approach to community engagement would have better described what was intended.
For me the fact the policy was intended to go “beyond” current legislative requirements raises concerns over cost. The last thing council want at this time is a widening of council activities which invariably invites staff to ask for more resourcing due to their expanded role. However, staff reassured the subcommittee that was not the intention. To explain what was intended by going “beyond” the current legislative requirements, staff gave the example of a resource consent decision notice. Under the legislation, the notice only has to state that a decision has been made and for whom it was made for – barely a paragraph on a single page letter to affected parties. What council sought to do was take the opportunity to use the rest of the page to explain what the decision meant for affected parties. It was suggested that this would not take much more time to prepare and would not result in any additional costs for council. While the Community Development manager could not reassure the subcommittee that costs would not increase for other departments (eg engineering), as she was not responsible for those departments, it was felt that operating “smarter” should have no increased costs for council.
Communication and online activity
The council reports provided a very strong indication of the increasing use of online media both in utilising the council web site and also in the use of online library media (ie, digital books, newspaper and magazine access, and database resources).
Councils publishing programme
Four Newsline and one Mudcake & Roses publication were produced in the first quarter of this year. By way of additional background it is worth noting the cost of these publications.
Mudcakes & Roses is a 2-monthly publication aimed at those that are not so young in our community. It costs the council approximately $5,207 per issue (or $31,242 per year) to produce. These costs include discounting from advertising revenue (currently $1,900 per issue) and Nelson Council financial support ($1,600 per issue).
Generally, Newsline is a two weekly publication. In 2012, there were 23 issues plus a special annual plan issue. Newsline costs the council approximately $9,753 per issue (or using a rough estimate of 24 issues per year, approximately $234,072 per year). This is offset by approximately $800 of advertising per issue (or $18,400 for 23 issues, as no advertising appears in the special annual plan issue). Apparently, Newsline is suppose to offset the need to advertise council meetings and other statutory requirements (excluding resource consent notices, as these are paid for by the applicant) in local newspapers. I have been advised that the cost of publishing public notices is between $200 to $600 per notice placement in local papers. But from what I have seen, this does not appear to be the case. Rather, I have seen the same council notices that appear in Newsline appearing in many of the local newspapers.
Council also publishes two other annual publications. Namely “Hummin” (costing approximately $29,874) and “Boredom Busters” which is a quarterly holidays programme for kids (costing approximately $10,362 per issue, or approximately $41,448 per year).
As you can see, council has a very large publishing program. In my opinion, the publishing budget could easily be reduced. For example, Newsline could contain less pages and\or be published less frequently. Mud & Roses could also reduce its frequency or be cancelled altogether.
At present, there seems little political will to do so. However, I hope that through the annual plan submission process, more pressure from the public is placed on council to reduce its publishing budget to give other councillors the confidence to make the cuts that need to happen.
A simplified logo
One other item of interest to me was the simplified Tasman logo that will be used on the new internally printed letter (so we do not need to acquire printed letter head stationary). We were advised at an earlier meeting that it would only cost a few hundred dollars to do. I was advised that that the final cost was approximately $430.
The last meeting
The disestablishment of this subcommittee was a significant item and one that I welcomed. As reported to in earlier posts this subcommittee had been asked at its last meeting to consider a diminished role. The subcommittee pushed back on that proposal and in my opinion, if the subcommittee could not take a significant role, I really had question why it existed at all. Further, much of what is reported to the communications subcommittee could be, and is, presented to the community development committee. Thus, this subcommittee’s function was somewhat redundant. Credit to staff and the chair in pushing for its early retirement.
Finally, I wish to note how pleasurable it has been working with staff and councillors on this subcommittee. Credit must go to Cr Edgar’s chairing role and to the informal and friendly manner of member councillors. If there was one benefit that comes from subcommittee’s it is the opportunity to get to know fellow councillors a little more.
Agenda and minutes
The agenda and minutes for this meeting can be found at: http://www.tasman.govt.nz/council/council-meetings/subcommittee-meetings/commerical-subcommittee/?path=/EDMS/Public/Meetings/CommercialSubcommittee/2014-02-28.