24 Aug 2020

Invercargill City Council internal tensions: Government investigates

7:10 pm on 24 August 2020

The government may intervene in the embattled Invercargill City Council after concerns were raised with the Department of Internal Affairs.

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Photo: Invercargill City Council

The department has addressed the council in a letter, requesting information after ongoing tensions between elected members, and at times, with staff.

The information will be used to advise Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta on action she could take to assist or intervene in local authority matters under Part 10 of the Local Government Act.

Ministerial advice monitoring and operations director Anita Balakrishnan confirmed the department was helping the council to resolve significant conflict among elected members.

"Under local government legislation, councils are accountable to their communities for their actions and decisions, rather than to ministers," she said.

"The department is seeking assurance and evidence that it is taking proactive steps to restore trust and confidence in its ability to meet the Crown's and ratepayers' expectations of a high-performing council."

Risk and Assurance Committee independent chairperson Bruce Robertson will assist the council through the process.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt. Photo: RNZ / Lydia Anderson

Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt said it was an opportunity to learn, improve and strengthen their work and relationships between staff and elected members.

"Differences of opinion are vital to any democracy, and we will work within this review to demonstrate democracy is alive and well in our city," he said.

"In the interests of everyone, differences of opinion need to be respected while a democracy aims to resolve its differences and support its community with clear leadership. Elected members have welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate that we have the ability to serve our community well."

The council's chief executive Clare Hadley said a focus on strong democratic process was essential to ensure sound decision-making.

The community could be assured that it was business as usual for the day-to-day operations of the organisation, she said.

"Local government can appear to others as slow and frustrating, but our processes are in place for a good reason, to ensure all options are canvassed and decisions are made thoughtfully with regard for the long term and for the priorities of the many projects and responsibilities every local authority must turn its attention to."

The council will discuss the next steps at tomorrow's council meeting and the appointment of an independent advisor before providing an update to the department later this week.

Balakrishnan said the department will consider the steps to take and what support might be needed after hearing back from the council.

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