Scott riled to be stood down

By Lawrence Gullery

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Hawke's Bay regional councillor Christine Scott estimates she's wasted 50 hours preparing as a commissioner for a hearing only to be kicked off the panel just before it was due to start this week.

She was one of four commissioners appointed to hear submissions on a regional council plan change, on how to better manage land and freshwater resources.

She was stood down from the panel just before the hearing started on Wednesday morning, after a legal challenge from Hawke's Bay Fish and Game. It alleged Ms Scott had a conflict of interest because she was also on the regional council's investment company which headed the Ruataniwha water storage scheme.

"There was a perception that I was going to smooth the way for the dam and that it was a conflict of interest. But there was no legal case for a conflict, just a perception from Fish and Game," Ms Scott said

Ms Scott accepted the decision but was disappointed because she had spent weeks preparing for the hearing, reviewing submissions and forming questions to ask.

"I would have spent in excess of 50 hours. There's no personal financial loss because I do this as part of my work as a councillor," she said.

Commissioner Roger Maaka was also subject of the same challenge from Fish and Game, because of his connection with the same Ruataniwha scheme.

And there was a further challenge from Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Inc about commissioner Mike Mohi's participation in the hearing and his representation within Maoridom.

The three commissioners stood aside while a fourth commissioner Denis Nugent, an independent from Wanaka, chaired the meeting to hear the challenge.

Dr Maaka said he had been appointed to the Ruataniwha Water Storage Board Committee as an expert in Maori culture and environmental issues.

He said he was used to making impartial decisions on similar matters.

Mr Mohi outlined his history of working with waterways and wetlands projects as well as his representation on various Maori organisations. He too said he was able to manage conflicts of interest.

Mr Nugent said while there was no conflict of interest in a "strict legal sense", in terms of the importance of the issue, "perception over-rides the legal position".

He ruled Ms Scott stand down but Dr Maaka and Mr Mohi remain on the panel. The hearing concluded yesterday.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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