Michael Laws defends missed council meetings

By John Maslin of the Wanganui Chronicle -
Michael Laws. Photo / APN
Michael Laws. Photo / APN

One blames the start time of the meetings, the other says there are way too many meetings.

But either way Wanganui district councillors Clive Solomon and Michael Laws remain habitual non-attenders at council and committee meetings.

Two thirds of the way through the council's three-year term - from October 2010 up to October 23, 2012 - Mr Solomon has made it to 22 of the 44 full council meetings. He tendered his apologies on 13 other occasion and was a "no show" for nine others.

Mr Laws has made 25 council meetings, apologised for his non-attendance at 11 of them and was absent on eight other occasions.

Council's major committee meetings include infrastructure and property, community and environment and strategy and finance and over the past two years they met on a total of 47 occasions.

The non-attendance of both councillors to committee meetings is even more telling.

Mr Laws got to just four of the 47 scheduled meetings - 8.5 per cent of them - apologised for his absence on 24 other occasions and was absent from 19 others.

Mr Solomon got to 12 committee meetings (25 per cent), put in his apology for not being at another 12 and was absent from another 23.

Mr Laws told the Chronicle he had answered questions on meeting attendance "a thousand times before" and those views had not changed in the eight years he had been involved with council, either as mayor or councillor.

He said this record for the last two years had been about the same as it was when he was mayor.

"Meeting attendance is no indication of the merits of a councillor. Effective action is.

"Look around. Proof of my positive actions abounds everywhere in Wanganui. I'd match that against anyone," he said.

And Mr Laws said he stood by his belief that there were "way too many meetings" saying it was "meetings for meetings sake, and I've said that for the past two years".

He said it was about picking the council meetings and battles that could be won, yet against his advice council still managed to" blow" $160,000 on a failed cycling centre bid and raised rates by 6 per cent.

"Most meetings have agendas that mean absolutely nothing to Wanganui or its citizens," he said.

"I represent constituents on a daily basis as a legal advocate, counsellor, McKenzie Friend and council go-between. Strangely enough the Chronicle is not interested in that work," Mr Laws said.

(A McKenzie Friend is a person who is given approval by the Judge to assist a party in court).

Mr Solomon said any issues of attendance had never once been raised with him by the Mayor.

"The previous council started meetings in the late afternoon so that those of us who worked for a living could attend," he said.

"Whilst this was made clear at the start of this council session, those concerns were ignored and meetings moved to 2pm, precisely so I would not be able to attend or find it very difficult to do so.

"Inclusivity? Yeah, right," he said.

By contrast three councillors - Sue Westwood, Rob Vinsen and Randhir Dahya - have not missed a council meeting. Mr Dahya also got to every committee meeting while Mrs Westwood missed only one of them.

The elected representatives all receive an annual stipend. The Mayor pockets $94,844, the deputy-Mayor and committee chairmen earn $29,418, the chair of council's hearings and regulatory committee gets $28,139, the youth committee chair $26,860 and councillors $25,581 annually.

Councillors do not get paid any more for meetings they attend, except for those relating to the District Plan review when they get $150 per meeting.

Remuneration for some other district councils includes:

Ruapehu - Mayor $72,400, deputy $10,482, councillor $5013.

Rangitikei - Mayor $74,000, deputy $20,040, councillor $17,034.

South Taranaki - Mayor $85,490, deputy $27,189, councillor $15,089.

Taupo - Mayor $93,489, deputy $37,206, councillor $32,583.

Timaru - Mayor $94,132, deputy $41,490, councillor $28,000.

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