Invercargill City Council votes to phase out independent oversight

8:34 pm on 23 November 2021

The Invercargill City Council has voted to start phasing out independent oversight of its governance from next month following a turbulent period.

Invercargill City Council Building on Esk St, Invercargill.

Invercargill City Council Building on Esk St, Invercargill. Photo: ODT / Abbey Palmer

Reports of ongoing tensions between elected members - and at times - with staff caught the attention of the Department of Internal Affairs in the middle of last year with government intervention raised as a potential option.

Two external appointees were charged with guiding the council to ensure it could function as a governing body.

The council has received more positive feedback since then.

Earlier this month, Invercargill Mayor Sir Shadbolt was the sole opponent to transitioning away from the appointees during a committee meeting.

On Tuesday afternoon, it passed unanimously during a council meeting but it wasn't without hiccups.

The decision meant only one appointee would need to attend committee meetings, the Project Governance Group would be lead by a councillor, not an appointee, and they would focus on support, mentoring and processes.

Current Project Governance Group chair Jeff Grant said the council had made good progress.

"The Department of Internal Affairs in their commentary to the Project Governance Group said that they felt there had been a maturing in terms of the work done by both council and staff and that the transition was probably an appropriate time."

One of the four recommendations for councillors to consider was whether to continue to provide mayor Sir Tim with ongoing support for his wellbeing.

Councillor Ian Pottinger raised the question about what did supporting the mayor mean and what the role would entail.

Jeff Grant said the discussions at the Project Governance Group included the general principles of support for the mayor with an informal group of up to five councillors.

"If there was the need to have a more defined role then that should be something council should ask for."

Pottinger said if it was left too open, it could be misinterpreted.

Deputy mayor Nobby Clark - who will take over the head role of the Project Governance Group - agreed, saying he didn't want the group continuing unless it had tangible outcomes, and asked the mayor to outline the benefits for a support group.

Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt's council came under scrutiny following an independent review late last year.

Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt's council came under scrutiny following an independent review late last year. Photo: Otago Daily Times / Stephen Jaquiery

Sir Tim Shadbolt said being mayor was a difficult job and difficult to spell out his role.

In his response, he told councillors that he worked out that housing was a serious challenge for the city, so he set about buying two houses in the area, repairing them and drawing attention to the issue.

He then talked about his role in promoting the city, before saying councillors often saw attending meetings as the most important factor, but he liked to get involved.

"I think this committee should continue. But I'd like to see it change, at the moment it's linked to a 12 hour base and I've done 12 hours just in the last two days, and I think the committee would agree that the - well I don't know if that's answered your question."

Councillor Ian Pottinger said the answer was more like a Beehive press release, and he put forward an amendment to have the mayor's support group dissolved if there wasn't a clear purpose.

Councillor Darren Ludlow spoke against the amendment while suggesting more details would be useful, saying having the capacity for support was a proactive step.

"They have got to have a purpose and I think it's a good opportunity to define down what that purpose is and what is needed fits within the realms of what we are able to do."

Nobby Clark reiterated that the mayor had received different support including allocated clerical time and IT training - that had been offered on at least three occasions but only accepted once.

Councillor Lesley Soper voiced her opposition to the amendment, saying it could benefit from more time to flesh out the group's aims.

When it came to the vote, the amendment only had two supporters - Clark and Pottinger.

Clark stepped down from the supporting the Mayor Group following the unsuccessful vote and the four recommendations were then passed unanimously.

The council authorised a budget of $310,000 for the last financial year but it was under-budget at $243,347.

The current work plan was expected to be delivered within a budget of $420,000 provided in the Long Term Plan for the current financial year.

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