Minutes of a "secret" Hastings District Council meeting show that Deputy Mayor Cynthia Bowers, surprisingly, voted against giving Miracle Water a $50,000 incentive grant.
The minutes of a public excluded portion of a council meeting on May 28 last year were released by Mayor Lawrence Yule yesterday after Hawke's Bay Today formally requested them in the interest of transparency.
The grant was originally disclosed by Hawke's Bay regional councillor Tom Belford, who accused Ms Bowers of doing a "political about-face" on her stance on water bottling. Ms Bowers stood by her initial support for the water bottling, saying she had since changed her mind.
When asked why she did not declare her vote against the grant, Ms Bowers said she had not checked the minutes, and her recollection had been that she abstained from voting, "which is the same as voting for something".
Although Ms Bowers said she could recall being "incredibly uneasy" about the grant, she thought it safer to disclose that she had voted for it, rather than potentially lie.
Yesterday, she said she voted against the grant as she knew the community had concerns about using water for that purpose, "I just didn't feel that I could support it knowing those concerns were out there."
She said irrespective of the way she had voted, council had approved the Miracle Water grant and as a member of council, she said the convention was to support the majority decision.
Mr Belford said Ms Bowers was an "awfully confused councillor".
"[She] starts with apparent reservation, then became enthusiastic at the prospect, then discarded misgivings, then forgot her vote against, and is now finally against water bottling," he said.
"There is an awful lot of flip-flopping going on there. Is that a councillor you can trust?"
At a broader level he said, "this is a great example of the murkiness caused by public-excluded discussion of so much of the public business".
Mr Belford and Ms Bowers are both standing for the Hastings ward in the local body elections.
The other councillors who voted against awarding the grant were Wayne Bradshaw and Rod Heaps.
Heretaunga ward councillor Mr Heaps said he voted against because he did not think the company needed the council's assistance, or fitted the policy criteria.
"This was a multi-million dollar company coming into the Bay and it was not what the funds, or the policy was supposed to be for," he said. "It was supposed to be for businesses that needed a hand up, not a hand out."
Secondly, Mr Heaps said he had always been opposed to companies taking water from the aquifer.
"That was just my way of protesting against that particular application, because we as a council were promoting it all the way," he said.
"One thing's selling it, but the other is actually giving it away . . . they say nobody owns the water but by crikey, if you're depending on it you should have some say in it."
Earlier this week, Mr Bradshaw said he had voted against it as he had "some discomfort about giving away our water when we don't understand the aquifer, and the value of it, and how nature has replenished it".
After the minutes were released yesterday he added council should ensure minutes accurately reflect what happened in a publicly excluded meeting.
The only new information in the minutes - aside from who voted against the grant - was that the total $50,000 amount would be payable in arrears over two years at six monthly intervals based on actual additional fulltime jobs created compared with targets.
Mr Bradshaw said, "They're not minutes at all, all they are is a record of the decision, there's no narrative around how the decision was reached. How could anyone have considered they were private, and confidential, when there's nothing there."
Mayor Lawrence Yule and councillors Malcolm Dixon, Sandra Hazlehurst, Tania Kerr, George Lyons, Adrienne Pierce, Jacoby Poulain, John Roil, and Kevin Watkins were also at the meeting, and confirmed they voted for the grant.
Councillor Simon Nixon was not certain which way he voted. Councillor Henare O'Keefe was not present.
The report for the May 2015 meeting, authored by Craig Cameron, now the council's economic growth and organisational improvement group manager, recommended council approve up to $50,000 to New Zealand New Water Ltd.