"Gagging order" for Napier councillors could change

By Victoria White

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Change is on the cards for Napier City Council's controversial code of conduct. PHOTO/FILE
Change is on the cards for Napier City Council's controversial code of conduct. PHOTO/FILE

Change is on the cards for Napier City Council's controversial code of conduct - criticised as a "gagging" of councillors.

Every triennium the council's code of conduct - which has been alleged to stop elected members from speaking out - is reviewed.

Some of those hoping to be part of the new council conducting this say they feel parts of the code should be changed.

This comes following debate on a Talking Point in Hawke's Bay Today. Penned by Napier resident Andrew Frame, the opinion piece discussed the alleged gagging, and queried whether successful candidates would challenge this.

Mr Frame pointed to the code, saying it "[appeared] to strip our elected members of some rights including the ability to publicly criticise other councillors or council staff and limits who can say what to whom."

However Napier mayor Bill Dalton said although it was a "tight code of conduct", it had never been invoked, or referred to during his nine years on council.

"There's no way in the world you could use it as a gagging order if you never refer to it, and never invoke it, it's just nonsense," he said.

All incumbent councillors spoken to by Hawke's Bay Today denied feeling "gagged".

Nelson Park ward councillor Mark Hamilton agreed the code was not referred to, adding councillors queried, and challenged things constantly - "it just happens in a professional manner ...not airing it through the press."

Ahuriri incumbent Mark Herbert said the only thing councillors could not speak on were things discussed in committee.

To the best of two-term councillor Michelle Pyke's knowledge, the code had never been invoked against any member since implemented.

"I believe the incoming Council will be reviewing the Code, as it does after each election, and I would be surprised if it isn't changed in some way this time."

At-large councillor Kirsten Wise said, "in light of the concerns which have been raised by Andrew Frame and other community members I support a review of the current code to ensure these concerns are alleviated."

Candidates said they would challenge any clause they felt stopped them from doing their duty.

Ahuriri candidate Larry Dallimore said if elected he would have an open mind - however his responsibility would be to represent Napier's residents, and make it a better city.

Nelson Park ward candidate Grant Hammond said he was not aware of the code's wording, but would query it as he could not represent constituents if he could not speak on their behalf.

Steve Gibson said he knew such orders could be important for sensitive matters, however he would have to disagree with them being used for unpleasant news, or negative publicity for the council.

If elected, Claire Hague said she would expect to be part of an induction process which included an explanation of the code of conduct, and which would be a "prime opportunity" to ask questions on any concerns.

David Hannay said ratepayers wanted transparency and openness from their councillors, and if elected he would be there to represent Napier residents, not the council.

At-large candidate Maryanne Marsters said she felt the council was there to serve Napier, and its residents - if elected she would not forget they had voted her in.

Despite the code not being referred to during his time on council, Mr Dalton said he did not think it was redundant in its current state.

"I think for the protection of everyone there should be a Code of Conduct there."

When asked if he thought it should change, Mr Dalton said he had not looked at it because council had never needed to use it.

"But when we come to review it, we'll have a look and if it needs changes we'll make changes, it's as simple as that."

In his piece, Mr Frame also cited the declaration mayors, and councillors have to agree to before taking office, which states they will perform in the best interests of the council.

The Local Government Act 2002 however states council's declaration's should stipulate that members will perform in the best interests of the region or district.

Mr Dalton said he had not been aware of the council's declarations wording, which was "wrong", and would change when reviewed in the early stages of next term.

In the nine years Keith Price had been a councillor, he said the declaration had never been referred to, or invoked.

"It is true that the wording of the Code of Conduct is incorrect and this will be addressed early in the next term. If re-elected I will whole heartedly and vehemently support this change as it has obviously been cause for concern of many citizens of this city."

When asked if elected councillors would have to sign the declaration as it currently stands, Mr Dalton said, "if they're sensible and pragmatic they would sign the existing code...knowing that we're actually going to review it in the early stages but that's up to them."

Hawke's Bay Today reached out to all candidates.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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