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Councillors criticised for ‘top-down’ review

Tawhiti/Uawa Ward member Pat Seymour should be recused from consideration of the council representation review because of a conflict of interest, submitter John Kape told Gisborne District Council.

But Mrs Seymour says she was fulfilling her role as a councillor when she distributed an A4 flyer at a consultation meeting.

Mr Kape was speaking to the council as part of its six-yearly representation review.

His submission raised concerns about a conflict of interest, he said. A material conflict occurred when someone was likely to directly or indirectly materially benefit from being involved in a particular decision.

The proposal considered was for changes to the Tawhiti/Uawa Ward boundary. (This was later changed to an at-large election and community boards with no wards.)

“I argue that is a significant conflict of interest for the councillor who has been actively engaged in pushing the solution that is in front of you,” he said.

“That is a serious issue for the council’s process,”

His recommendation was that she should recuse herself from consideration of the decision.

The staff response was that the council’s recommendation went to the Local Government Commission, which would helped to mitigate the conflict of interest.

One option was to recuse the councillor. The council might need to do a little bit more, given the level of acivity and the way the proposal had been driven from the top down, he said.

Mr Kape also urged the council to take into consideration communities of interest within Gisborne City.

“Essentially, my submission is that it is worth taking more time.”

Representation should not be based on population and population distribution. Places like Kaiti (14,000), Whataupoko (5500) and Mangapapa (5000) were also places with a community of interest.

The challenge was how the council could engage the urban areas and the Coast with arguably distinct communities of interest in the future.

There was a need for more creative thinking on how the council got that engagement in its formal processes.

It was not engaging with the distinct communities of interest in the city, as it was with the rural area. That was a significant issue.

This had largely been a top- down review driven by councillors’ preference for what they saw as a solution.

His key point was that the council should take longer on this process.

The community would change over the next six years. The council might put in place an option that was not the best fit.

He suggested the council take the next couple of years and introduce something for 2023.

It would be worth asking that question of the Local Government Commission.

Mrs Seymour said her role as a councillor had always been to ensure that the residents and ratepayers were as well-informed as possible.

“I believe that it is important for the councillor to defend the right of, in this case the rural ratepayers and residents, to have fair, accessible and face-to-face representation — ie to retain a ward structure,” she said.

“At the end of the day the people made their submissions. I provide the information.

“The council-produced bookmark was not user-friendly to email to the community, so I provided an A4 flyer covering points related to the representation review.

“I have always advised the community meetings that it is not about my role as the councillor but this is about advocacy and ensuring that there is a place for rural representation going forward.

“I was disappointed to miss the discussion but the meeting last Thursday was an ‘add-on’ to the confirmed schedule of council meetings for the year and I had been booked into the RMA chairs recertification course in Auckland, a role I fill for Gisborne District Council, since last year. There are only a limited number of courses each year,” she said.