Councillor puts herself out of debate

By Sophie Price

9 comments
A view of the site of the proposed Ruataniwha Dam, over the Makaroro River. Photo / Duncan Brown
A view of the site of the proposed Ruataniwha Dam, over the Makaroro River. Photo / Duncan Brown

The Ruataniwha dam is back on the Central Hawke's Bay District council's agenda with councillors again debating ratepayer buy-in to the scheme.

The discussion will take place at a publicly excluded meeting to be held today, following the council's general meeting.

One councillor who will not be a part of any such talk will be Sally Butler.

In December, confidential minutes accidently released to the public revealed that Ms Butler declared she may have a perceived conflict of interest relating to the matter, as her family farm had taken a conditional contract with the Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company to take water from the scheme.

However, at the time it was considered that all councillors could have a perceived conflict of interest relating to the scheme.

As such, Ms Butler was given full speaking and voting rights on the matter in the publicly-excluded meeting.

This time around, she made it clear that she would "absolutely" not be involved in the Ruataniwha item slated for the publicly excluded meeting.

"I will be stepping outside. I will not be involved while the debate is on," she said.

"I will not be involved at all."

While this councillor may make sure her perceived conflict of interest will not influence tomorrow's debate, council's chief executive John Freeman said declarations of that nature would be made at the start of both the public and publicly excluded meetings.

"It is better to be safe and have it at both parts of the meeting, so we have got conflict of interest at both parts," Mr Freeman said.

Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said while there was no legal requirement for a conflict of interest register, as he has said in the past, it was best practice.

When asked if in this particular instance, with councillors buying into the scheme, such a register is needed more so than at other times, the president said "actually, yes I do".

"I think people need to be really careful about conflict and importantly about perceived conflict, and how they are registered and recorded," he said.

He said the reason for a conflict of interest register is so that people could really think about what their conflicts are.

"And to alert you to the fact that you are making a decision that there can be perception issues about bias, predetermination - all those sorts of things, which can compromise a decision," said Mr Yule.

This issue was raised initially by the district council's own auditor. Stephen Mutch, a partner at Ernst & Young in Wellington who audited the council, reported his firm held discussions with key personnel at the council with regard to the issue.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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