Hawke's Bay regional councillors dispute being left in dark on legal action against Hastings District Council

By Victoria White

8 comments
IN THE DARK: HBRC chairman Rex Graham has called out staff for not keeping the council informed. PHOTO/FILE
IN THE DARK: HBRC chairman Rex Graham has called out staff for not keeping the council informed. PHOTO/FILE

A dispute has broken out over how informed Hawke's Bay Regional councillors were about developments on the Havelock North water issue.

Last Friday, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council (HBRC) laid two charges against Hastings District Council for unlawful taking of water.

It is understood the first councillors knew about the legal action was through an email sent that morning.

At a regional planning committee meeting yesterday morning, HBRC chairman Rex Graham called out staff for not keeping the council informed on this - something other councillors have disputed.

Because of this legal action, it was announced earlier this week the inquiry into the contamination of Havelock North's drinking water would be postponed until late January 2017.

The district council had applied for a postponement as the next inquiry hearing date, and the prosecution, would both commence next Monday at Hastings District Court.

"It just concerns me that governance have not been involved in any of these decisions that have taken place," Mr Graham said.

This issue had been raised before, he said, and noted councillors wanted to be involved and informed on what steps the executive team were making on the matter.

This would ensure "that we don't get caught out when we read the paper or get rung by somebody else".

After the meeting yesterday, Mr Graham said he would have liked to have been informed of the charges against HDC prior to the day they were announced.

Delegation for regulatory matters relating to the Havelock North water issue had been given to council chief executive Andrew Newman.

In response to Mr Graham's comments, a council spokesman said the chief executive and HBRC staff worked closely with councillors, "keeping them informed of developments on a wide range of issues and activities".

"This is HBRC's standard practice, works both ways and is ongoing," he said.

Councillor Tom Belford agreed with Mr Graham's comments.

Although it would be good to have been informed prior to the charges being laid, Mr Belford said this could be perceived as an invitation for councillors to interfere with staff responsibilities.

"We get into this grey area," he said.

Other regional councillors have stated they were kept well informed.

Councillor Fenton Wilson said when the charges were laid, "all councillors were advised the moment it happened via email".

When asked if he would have liked to have been informed prior to the charges being laid, Mr Wilson said: "I was more than happy with the information I received via email, [which was] a very clear and concise description of what was happening."

This was reiterated by councillor Debbie Hewitt, who said councillors had been kept informed with written briefs throughout the process.

"It was expected there would be significant media interest in this matter from midday onwards on Friday," she said, "so I would say that if we received notice three-quarters of an hour before it hits the media then, yeah, we're fair warned as councillors."

"There's a 'no surprises' policy and I think that's been adhered to."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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