Rotorua Lakes councillors divided over increased funding and Ashburton ‘junket’

6:29 am on 28 February 2020

A "junket" to Ashburton and increased funding for an iwi partnership group sparked a verbal to-and-fro at a Rotorua Lakes Council meeting.

Mayor Steve Chadwick at her Kawaha Point home. 18 April 2019 Rotorua Daily Post Photograph by Stephen Parker.

Photo: Rotorua Daily Post / Stephen Parker via LDR

It began as councillor Reynold Macpherson was critical of a proposal to increase annual funding for Te Tatau o te Arawa from $250,000 to $372,500.

Council manahautū Māori (Māori manager) Gina Rangi recommended the $122,500 increase in funding, which she said would be used to employ a fixed-term project manager to support engagement and complete the Te Arawa Vision project.

Macpherson said a 49 percent funding increase proposal was "disconcerting" when the council was "struggling, in my view, to address the questions of affordability to ratepayers".

"Do you think this is well-timed given the broader context of people struggling to pay their rates?"

Mayor Steve Chadwick, as chairwoman, said she ruled that out.

"That is a political statement, it is for us to decide as councillors about approving this increase or not, which is the recommendation."

Macpherson responded saying he believed funding for a Te Arawa Vision project manager should include the presentation of "a business plan, job description, KPIs and so on".

Reynold Macpherson. New Rotorua Lakes councillors. 13 October 2019 Daily Post photograph by Stephen Parker

Reynold Macpherson. Photo: Rotorua Daily Post / Stephen Parker via LDR

Chadwick said that was "outside also" and asked the chief executive Geoff Williams to weigh in.

Before Williams could do that, Macpherson raised a point of order, which Chadwick declined.

"No, I want a response from the chief executive and then I think you'll understand about framing questions related to the recommendations."

That elicited an audible exhalation by Macpherson into his microphone, which was still turned on.

Williams affirmed the question of whether to accept the officers' recommendation was something for all councillors to consider.

"I don't think staff can comment or assist you with that.

Rotorua Lakes Council chief executive Geoff Williams.

Rotorua Lakes Council chief executive Geoff Williams. Photo: Stephen Parker / Rotorua Daily Post

"Along with what was tabled today is a clear proposal with respect to what could be seen as a funding request. The process for appointment and the design of the role's responsibilities, as an example … would be a responsibility that Te Tatau would actually undertake themselves."

Rangi said the recommendation was "that council approve an additional annual funding contribution to Te Tatau of $122,500 to support and strengthen their ability to engage effectively with Te Arawa peoples".

"So it will be tied to that purpose, but as an independent partnership board, it's for them to manage that appropriately in accordance with their obligations as trustees."

Macpherson made another point of order, and began a question where he described Te Tatau as a "policy advisory board".

Chadwick responded swiftly, ruling it "out of order".

"The Te Tatau Board is not a policy advisory board.

"There used to be an advisory board and we moved that through an electoral process into a partnership board. It's not a policy advisory board. So that is out of order."

Williams added the role of Te Tatau was to represent the views of the iwi.

"It is critical, therefore, that they are able to ... engage with iwi to determine what are the iwi's views and aspirations on various matters in order for them to actually represent those views. That's effectively what's at the heart, I think, of this proposal."

Macpherson asked if it was a "wise precedent to set".

Chadwick responded saying "that is exactly what we will be voting on".

Councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said she did not know many Māori entities that would accept an advisory role "these days".

"That is just so passe, so history, I can't even believe it was even thought of today.

"There is an opportunity for councillors to come up to speed with the ... tino rangatiratanga aspirations of Māori these days."

The motion was passed with all in favour except Macpherson and fellow Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers member, councillor Peter Bentley, who both voted against.

The next bone of contention drew a similar divide, as the council moved on to approve $1348 excluding GST for councillor Trevor Maxwell to attend the Sister Cities New Zealand 2020 Conference in Ashburton from 30 April to 2 May.

Macpherson said the council "must look for economies" and opportunities where the council could participate in the conference online.

Chadwick said there was "no way … you can ever have a face-to-face relationship building" without attending the conference in person.

"The benefits for us, while not economically profound, have delivered enormous relationships - face-to-face … it's cost-neutral."

She then moved the motion, with councillor Raj Kumar seconding.

Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said to label the three-day trip as a "junket" would be "penny-pinching".

"Goodness me, it's only to Ashburton, it's not sending councillor Maxwell to Beppu at the ratepayer's cost and as you [Chadwick] pointed out, the cost is more than offset by councillors hosting delegations through here."

The motion was passed with Macpherson and Bentley opposed.

The council also unanimously approved council committee recommendations to establish a Waikawau / Hannahs Bay Reserve management committee and to commence the process to return land under the Tarawera Landing Cafe to the Tūhourangi Tribal Authority.

It also unanimously affirmed council representation on other entities such as committees, boards and trusts, and to the adoption of the Waikato Triennial Agreement, which set out the protocols for communication and coordination between councils in the Waikato region during the three-year term.

The council then went into a public-excluded section to consider the adoption of confidential minutes of the previous meeting, confidential recommendations from other committees and to make council-controlled organisation board appointments.

The reasons given were to "enable commercial or industrial negotiations, commercial sensitivity, to protect a person's privacy and to allow free and frank expressions of opinions".

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