HDC accepts gastro accountability + Video

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The head of the Hastings District Council has fronted up to accountability over the Havelock North gastro outbreak with councillors banding together in his support.

Last week the Government inquiry released findings into August's gastro crisis when more than 5000 people became sick after the Havelock North drinking water supply was contaminated with camplyobacter.

While the inquiry found no agency was directly responsible for the outbreak, there had been numerous failings by those charged with supplying safe drinking water - most notably with the Hastings District and Hawke's Bay Regional councils.

It was also found a different outcome may have occurred had these failings been absent.

The inquiry's findings were quickly accepted by the district council, but yesterday most councillors gathered to accept their accountability for the contamination, and to show their support for chief executive Ross McLeod - who has faced criticism over the crisis.

As the head of the organisation, Mr McLeod said it was "quite clear" he was accountable for its performance.

The council had made it clear they expected him to fix the failings, he said, and ensure drinking water was safe, and that a similar contamination event could never happen again.

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said in the councillors' "collective view" the best way to be accountable was to fix the situation, "and support the staff that are in the best position to fix it in the shortest possible time".

The council is undertaking a range of actions to fix water issues - from receiving advice from an international expert to allocating further funding for more treatment facilities, investigation of new water sources, and additional operational expenditure.

The council was also reviewing its water service operations to be reported back at a council meeting on June 9.

Yesterday Mr McLeod remained tight-lipped on whether the review would result in job losses. He noted the council was also looking at the failings "and the normal council performance assessment will come into play there".

"We are clear that we need the resources that we have in this area, to continue to deliver safe water and fix the failings that have been found," he said.

"The review and looking at those failings may - but certainly not definitely - mean some changes in how we organise our water services."

When asked, he said he had not received any formal offers of resignation, but thought staff had been reflecting on their roles. "These are people that care about their roles so there's certainly been a lot of angst I'd say among some of those professionals that this has happened on their watch."

He thought staff felt accountable for the incident and the identified failings, but had now been given a clear purpose to fix the issue.

The chief executive was supported yesterday by councillors, who also expressed their sense of accountability to the community and to the families of the three elderly people whose deaths were linked to the outbreak.

Deputy mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said while it had been an "incredibly difficult time" for those involved with the council, it was now about moving forward to ensure safe drinking water was delivered to the community.

"We are very, very sad and sorry, but we're all here today and ... we are going to make this right."

This was echoed by councillor Bayden Barber, who said while the council was accountable to the community, it was also in support of Mr McLeod in moving forward.

"He's fronting, and we're backing him," he said.

"This is a sign of solidarity in terms of the council and where we want to move to which is rectifying, fixing what's been broken to ensure this never happens again."

Councillor Rod Heaps added they were all sympathetic to those affected by the outbreak.

"We've just banded together as a council ... the accountability is there and they're screaming out just fix it, get it right, and admit to the fact that there are some failings."

Mr Yule said councillors Geraldine Travers and Adrienne Pierce were not able to attend yesterday's meeting, but shared their colleagues' sentiment.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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