WCC 2013 Election

Wellington City Council Alcohol Reform Consultation a Sham?

Back in February the Wellington City Council trialled a new online consulting systems, called Loomio, which was designed to bring a greater democracy and better outcomes to Council proposals. The first cab of the rank that the system oversaw was the Alcohol Reform work that has been released today by Council as the “Right Mix”.

Sadly, as often been my experience over the years, the good work that the Council did appears to have been largely ignored by the Councillors once again reinforcing the public perception that the Councillors have a) pre-conceived outcomes they are looking for (an agenda) and b) that participating in any consultation is a complete waste of time.

Before I get into the background and the story, I just want to make a few things clear.

There is no doubt that the city needs some kind of alcohol reform, no one is disagreeing on the problems. Anyone who has been into Courtenay Place after 10pm on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night is all too aware of the drunken, anti-social, and disgusting antics that occur. It’s not a safe place to be with frequent outbreaks of violence that lead to a load on emergency services. Further, across the city, drinking raises many issues that need to be managed by the community at large.

I also want to make it clear that I have no allegiances here. I participated as a member of the community, and ratepayer, in the process that was overseen by Loomio. I don’t work in the hospitality industry, I have nothing to do with alcohol commercially, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I certainly like a drink or two. In addition, I didn’t stand to benefit financially from any of the ideas that we raised.

What does interest me is that the community has the ability to tell the Councillors, who we vote for and employ, what we want, what we think, what we are concerned about, and then they, as our employees, do what they are told. I also want to note that this is directed at the Councillors, not the on the ground Council, who I think I did a magnificent job with Loomio only to be upstaged by what appears to be an agenda and pre-conceived outcome.

Lastly, I understand that given the size of the people that expressed in interest in the consultation via Loomio, we were split into groups, I can only speak for the group that I participated in.

And with that, the story.

Back in February the Council stood up www.loomio.org in order get a more democratic and active participation in consulting on alcohol reform. There were no pre-conceived ideas, we were given a set of statements, problems mostly, and then asked to discuss and come up with recommendations. Each recommendation could be put to the vote.

Loomio Idea

Loomio Idea

Over the course of several weeks we debated and voted on various recommendations, strategies, and ideas. We had a cross section of Council staff (facilitating), hospitality players, drinkers, non-drinkers, health professionals, and other regular members of the community.

What became quickly apparent, at least in our group, was that blaming the hospitality players and off-licenses was stupid. Also, early closing hours, one way doors, and cut down hours were not going to solve the issues. At that stage, a number of ideas were generated, that have been simply lost in the translation from Loomio to the current draft document. We are in the dark as to how that happened, and once again, we see the consultation process of the Council operating in a dark basement, with no stair access, inside a locked filing cabinet, guarded by a tiger.

Here are some examples of the work that came out of Loomio.

General Agreement that the Capital Host Charter was an arse.

Hospitality operators can sign up to a Charter which then gains them the ability to put a sticker on their front door to show that they are… well… part of the Charter. The rules for getting on the charter are thin and the last time I paid attention to a sticker on a pub door was, well, never. And yet, in the proposal out today, we see this being strengthened.

Capital Charter

Capital Charter

Earlier pub closing hours were not supported

It became clear very early on that nobody agreed with a reduction in hours that pubs, bars, and restaurants could close. If anything, the consensus was that this would make things worse as people would pour out onto the street at certain hours causing crowd issues and that people would get their “six o’clock swill on” albeit at 3 am.

Closing Hours Vote

Closing Hours Vote

Number of off-licenses reduction not supported

A lot of debate surrounded the number of off-licenses and where they were in the community. The information that was supplied to us said that the number was irrelevant, the location was the important factor. In other words where an off license was situated was directly related to alcohol issues on the street not how many there were.

Number of Off-Licenses

Number of Off-Licenses in Given Areas

Stephanie Cooks weighs in with what looks like an agenda

About this point in the process the Dominion Post published an article titled “4am set to play havoc with city revellers.”

The article revealed that central government was working on a default 4am closure policy. What was interesting was Stephanie Cook’s statement in the article:

“Social portfolio leader Councillor Stephanie Cook said the council was asking for a simple fix to a problem.

It was likely the council’s policy would still stagger closings, and there would still be licences after 4am, so switching to the default for a few months was pointless.”

It was like the council’s policy would still stagger closings.

If that is not an agenda popping out half way through a public consultation process I don’t know what is. It seems that in Stephanie Cook’s mind the answer was already apparent, despite what was going on in the consultation space with Loomio and the Council proper. The perception, certainly in my mind, is that they outcome was a fait accompli, as we see today with the release of the draft.

Good ideas were not carried through

Our group came up with a number of ideas to help get after the outcomes that the reform was looking for. None of these were carried through despite strong support within the group to carry on after the consultation, working with the Council, giving our free time to make stuff happen. Here are three examples of ideas that didn’t make it.

The SmartPhone App

 “The Capital Host Brand is laudable, but as a device to allow me to see what is happening, what is safe, what kind of reputation a drinking establishment has, promotions, events, and all those good things, it doesn’t work.

I’m not going to pay much attention to a sticker on a pub door at 2am in the morning based on information that is months old.

So here’s the starter for ten.

Create an entertainment / establishment application for smartphones and the internet.

The App can show hotspots based on other available location information that is free. It can show how busy a place is.

The Apps can allow you to see into the establishment itself with a live camera. You can see how crowded it is and what’s happening before you leave home or walk in the door.

A reputation based system could be employed and periodically “flushed”. I.e. The problem with things like TripAdvisor is that the ratings are aggregated over years and years. So if you had a shoddy operator of a bar in 2010, you’ll get a whole pile of bad reviews, which is unfair because a new operator in 2013 could have turned the place around. So maybe the ratings are aggregated for three or six months. The ability for the establishment when they sign up as a place for the App to find to respond to reviews is paramount as well.

It shows what is open and what is closed.

It allows for the establishment to put any promotions up as advertising.

It allows for the establishment to show what entertainment is on that night or coming up.

The establishment and punters can define the “mood” of a place. So it could be categorised “Chill”, “Lively”, “Going Off”, and so on.

The establishment and punters can define the average age of the crowd and place.

It could show the music playlist for the evening.

There is a range of information that could be displayed about a location that changed dynamically as people visited establishments.

The real value is that the information is purely transparent and in one place. Anyone can look into a bar via video to see what is going on, you can see the mood of place in real time and the average age group, it provides information on entertainment and specials, it tells you how to get to a place, it runs a three month average of the reputation of a place, and its available free on every phone and computer.

A million bucks? Two million? Try NOTHING. This App already exists in the US (free to download) and I’m sure could be leveraged and extended out here with some support. It has over 33,000,000 regular subscribers in the US.

All we’d need is a plan, marketing, guinea pigs, some input from friendly establishments, and we’d be away.

I’m more than happy to dedicate some of my time to help.”

While there was debate on the actual content of the SmartPhone App, people were prepared to work, for nothing, to pursue the idea.

Volunteer Willingness

Volunteer Willingness

Wet Hostels

This idea also had strong support.

Wet Hostels

Wet Hostels

Social Campaign

We felt that attitudes toward alcohol in the city could be adjusted through social campaigns.

Social Campaign Ideas

Social Campaign Ideas

Summary

The amount of time and energy that was devoted by dozens of Wellingtonians into the consultation around alcohol reform showed that people cared, were engaged, and had great ideas thinking outside the box that had merit.

It appears that Stephanie Cook always had a preconceived idea and agenda, as evidenced by the Dominion Post Articles and the fact that our group’s other ideas were not carried through, I suspect other group’s ideas weren’t either.

The alcohol reform document in my opinion, doesn’t answer the questions that were originally posed as part of the consultation.

The Original Questions

The Original Questions

The approach adopted is old, dated, will not be operable, will not resolve the issues raised by the community, and is quite frankly, unintelligent.

The Councillors have shown once again, in my opinion, that consultation appears to be a sham single-handedly showing arrogance, a lack of touch with the community, a closed-minded attitude, which is un-democratic, while forgetting that they are employed by the community to represent our wishes.

Hats off to the Council proper, who did their level best to run a new and innovative consultation process and appear to have been pipped at the post by their Councillors.

We need to vote these bunnies out. The long term, lifers, who have decided they can divine what the community wants without proper consultation and are now career Councillors afraid of losing their jobs. Because who else would employ them?

I leave the final words to a mole within the machine, whose words I have deliberately chosen to alter to protect their identity. I asked them why ideas hadn’t been carried through and other ideas we had debunked had been taken forward. I leave you with their words, because it says it all:

“I have been left in the cold over recent weeks as well, it appears to be a lack of resource on the Council that is managing the consultation while also being at the whim of some very rigid, old processes at a deeper layer.”

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