One councillor believes he doesn’t need a designated time slot to engage with the public, saying he is always available for a chat.
Leen Braam is the only councillor who has declined to take part in a four-month trial of Talk It Up Tuesdays councillor chats at the Ashburton Library.
“The way I operate outside of council’s chambers, I get plenty of people asking me questions and wanting to know what’s going on,” Braam said.
“People stop me and ask me questions, and that’s the way I operate which seems to work for me.”
With a tall frame and prominent moustache, Braam is an easily distinguishable figure, and whenever he is out and about he is approached by members of the public raising concerns and asking questions, “which is part of the job”, he said.
It’s good the council is searching for ways to increase engagement with the community, he said, but rather than wait somewhere he would “rather talk to people on the street”.
“People know me, my phone number, they see me and that’s how I work and that’s the best way for me to explain to people what’s going on.”
Democracy and engagement group manager Toni Durham said every councillor was offered the opportunity to take part in the councillor chats.
“The elected members independently juggle their attendance themselves around their personal availability.
“There are a handful of people each Tuesday that have come in to meet with councillors.”
At the end of the four months, ending in August, it will be reviewed, Durham said.
The drop-in sessions are about hearing people’s thoughts on decisions, projects, or issues, Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown said.
So far it has had “varying success”.
“The daytime sessions seem to have people popping in and seizing the opportunity to talk to a councillor about whatever.
“The evening sessions haven’t been as popular.”
The review will consider continuing with the sessions, or altering the time, day, place they are held, or if some other avenue, such as a live online session, is an option worth trying, Brown said.
Since the sessions started there have been several items raised at council meetings stemming from the Tuesday chats.
While the sessions are not directly focused on anything in particular at present, the council is starting to work on the development of the 2024-34 long-term plan, which will take place over the next 12 months.
- By Jonathan Leask