26 Aug 2020

Invercargill City councillors react to government review

8:30 pm on 26 August 2020

Invercargill City councillors have had a mixed reaction to being subject to a government review with some welcoming the scrutiny and others questioning why it is needed.

The Crescent, Invercargill.

Invercargill. Photo: SUPPLIED / ICC

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) contacted the council to request information after reports of rising tensions among elected members.

That information will be used advise the minister of local government on how she should act. She has the power to intervene or assist in local authority matters if necessary under Part 10 of the Local Government Act.

Yesterday, the council met in a public-excluded council session, voting to proactively tackle the concerns raised by the department and develop a draft action plan.

First time councillor Nobby Clark welcomed the review, saying he hoped it would allow elected members to air their concerns and successes with the department or an independent mediator.

"Unless you put your cards on the table, you never have a way forward so we need to have some transparency internally about that. We need to acknowledge that we've each got roles to play. But that just can't be swept under the carpet, and I don't think this process will allow that to happen," Clark said.

"I think the DIA's involvement will ensure we actually are transparent about what we're doing and the results will be seen by the community."

The council's core services, including water, sewage and lighting - were done well, where it seemed to have the issues was in the one-off, large projects, Clark said.

There were several issues that needed to be resolved beyond what the DIA raised including improving the relationship with the chief executive, he said.

"At the end of the day, council should not be about personality. It should not be about image, it shouldn't be about factions. What it should be is, we should be delivering tangible outcomes for ratepayers.

"Ratepayers don't care how much you bicker and moan behind the scenes so long as they see business being done."

Councillor Lindsay Abbott said he was pleased to see the way councillors have worked together during the recent meetings.

But he wasn't too surprised when the letter arrived.

"Totally it wasn't unexpected. I think it's a good thing. Sometimes ... any individual or any community service or even any private service to actually have a good look at itself, and here's a good opportunity to do that," Abbott said.

Councillor Peter Warren Kett was confident the council would continue to make good progress.

"I was happy with the discussions and the frankness of the councillors and staff involved, and I believe we're heading in the right direction to satisfy any people's doubts," Kett said.

"Im 100 percent sure that we'll meet that goal and we'll come out well on the other side."

Councillor Graham Lewis was surprised when the DIA got involved.

"I don't necessarily agree that there's been conflict that we can't resolve within the council. We do speak, it's just that people get a little bit heated when they've got little issues of their own," Lewis said.

"I think everyone has the right intentions, everyone is trying to go forward.

"We are involved with lots of committee meetings, lots of workshops trying to enhance the results created by Covid and other rating issues, and so I think we are on the track and it will be nice to be able to prove it to the DIA."

Councillor Alex Crackett said the outcome of the meeting was positive in an emailed statement.

"Our attention is now toward to progressing the plan we have outlined, I'm satisfied with the process and I believe public confidence will be restored," she said.

When asked for an interview, Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt declined.

In a media release sent less than two hours later, Shadbolt said Tuesday's meeting was positive in that council had found a way forward with everyone on board.

The council's chief executive, Clare Hadley, said the council's leadership group would meet tomorrow to outline a draft plan which will be presented to council next week

They would be able to provide an initial response to the DIA by Friday as requested, she said.

The DIA said the Invercargill City Council had acted quickly after it raised concerns in a letter sent on 18 August.

Ministerial advice monitoring and operations director Anita Balakrishnan said the DIA would continue to monitor the council's progress.

"The council needs to demonstrate that it is taking proactive steps to restore trust and confidence in its ability to meet the Crown's expectations of a high-performing council," she said.

"The Department is satisfied that the Council has taken the appropriate initial steps towards resolving its issues and is expecting an update from the Council by next week on its full plan."

The DIA is expecting a further update from the council next week.

Each councillor was contacted.