CEO full-time on dam project

By Lawrence Gullery

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Public pressure has had a hand in Hawke's Bay Regional Council's decision to assign its chief executive full time into its investment company working on the Ruataniwha water storage project.

Chief executive Andrew Newman last year was tasked with spending 60 per cent of his time on the project, via the investment company, and the balance on the regional council.

Lobby group Transparent Hawke's Bay claimed there was a conflict on interest, through Mr Newman working with the investment company driving the dam project, and his obligations to the public as chief executive of the council.

The regional council went behind closed doors on Wednesday and decided Mr Newman's role should be more clearly defined and assigned 100 per cent to the dam, to cover off any perception of conflict.

General manager operations Liz Lambert will be the interim chief executive, taking over all Mr Newman's chief executive responsibilities except employment contracts. She will be responsible for guiding the council through its decision on whether to invest in the water scheme. She will also receive a pay increase, which is yet to be negotiated.

Council chairman Fenton Wilson said the level of work bringing the elements of the dam together was immense and Mr Newman needed to concentrate on the task.

Mr Newman would return to work as the council's chief executive at the conclusion of his tasks on the dam.

Transparent Hawke's Bay spokesperson Pauline Elliot said despite the decision to address the problem outlined by Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott and Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule around the dual role of Mr Newman, it was difficult to see, "in the convoluted arrangements between regional council and investment company, how this equips the regional council to make an independent assessment as to the viability of the project at the time the investment company makes its recommendations."

Mrs Arnott said she was happy to hear the council had decided to move Mr Newman over to the investment company to work on the dam.

"One of the bigger issues left is the process of doing a high-level review of the risks of the dam to the ratepayer.

"We want to assure ratepayers that the risk to them is minimised as much as possible."

In May, councillor Tim Gilbertson said the three regional councillors on the investment company board, Fenton Wilson, Alan Dick and Christine Scott, should resign from it to resolve perceived conflict of interest issues.

Councillor Neil Kirton, after the meeting, said the conflict of interest issue could be resolved by July: "We have asked that the investment company [to produce] a report which will demonstrate how it is going to handle the conflict of interest issues by July 31 this year and the council is going to do the same exercise."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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