Napier Mayor Bill Dalton has defended a decision to exclude the public from a $7000 ratepayer-funded amalgamation workshop for councillors the city is hosting next week.
Councillors from across the region have been invited to the five-hour workshop on Wednesday which will be led by Auckland consultant Bruce Nicholson, a specialist in local government strategy and operations.
The Local Government Commission is proposing Hawke's Bay's five local authorities be amalgamated into a single region-wide super council.
The workshop has been arranged so Mr Nicholson can share his experience on amalgamation issues, including time spent working for the Auckland Transition Agency which managed the setting-up of the Auckland super city council.
Mr Dalton, an outspoken opponent of amalgamation, has previously said the workshop would "provide a clearer picture on the effect the proposed amalgamation would have on governance, levels of service and rates".
The workshop is not open to the public or media, but will be attended by senior council staff as well as councillors.
"The decision [to exclude the public] was made by us for very good reasons. We want the councillors to be free, without the electors looking over their shoulders, to explore this topic as closely as they can so that they come up with a good decision," Mr Dalton said yesterday.
"There will be plenty of opportunity for the public to be involved at a later stage."
Submissions on the Local Government Commission's amalgamation proposal close on March 7 and the commission has said it will hold public hearings after that date and before issuing a final proposal. A region-wide referendum based on the final proposal is likely to be held late this year.
All the region's councils are expected to lodge submissions before the March 7 deadline but Mr Dalton said in Napier City's case it had not been decided whether the public would be consulted before or after that date.
"I'd really hope that as many people as can do make submissions but our role at this stage is to make sure that our councillors, who are leaders of public opinion, and our senior council officers, are as well informed as possible," he said.
"That's our role at the moment. At a later date, whenever that date may be, we will be involving the public."
A large turnout by the region's four mayors and 49 city, district and regional councillors is expected at Wednesday's workshop.
Napier City, Hasting District and Hawke's Bay Regional councils are each paying 30 per cent of the bill for the workshop, expected to be about $7000. The smaller Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay district councils will split the remaining 10 per cent of the cost, paying 5 per cent each.