Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Hamilton council not off the hook yet

V8 Supercar.  Photo / Christine Cornege
V8 Supercar. Photo / Christine Cornege

The Hamilton City Council appears to have fallen off the Government's watch of naughty councils.

Outgoing Local Government Minister Nick Smith made no mention of the council in the briefing notes to his successor, David Carter, in April despite the council's being put "on notice" last year.

According to information released by his office to the Herald under the Official Information Act, Mr Carter got a briefing document when he took over the portfolio on April 3 after Dr Smith's resignation in March, but it did not contain any references to the Hamilton council.

After a damning Audit New Zealand report about the council's handling of the V8 debacle, then-Local Government Minister Rodney Hide told the council last November the Government would be keeping a close eye on it and chastised it for "poor decision-making and appalling governance".

Mr Hide rejected public calls to sack the council and instead demanded regular updates on changes to the council's management and governance processes.

The council approved 27 changes to tighten up its processes and even set up a new working group of Mayor Julie Hardaker, Deputy Mayor Gordon Chesterman and councillors Dave Macpherson, Martin Gallagher and Margaret Forsyth.

The working group meets every six weeks, after which Ms Hardaker writes to the minister about the steps being taken to address issues arising out of the V8 report.

Her latest letter, dated May 3, was the only form of internal and external correspondence Mr Carter had received on the city council as part of his handover.

The letter included an update on governance training, an Institute of Directors course focusing on financial matters and the council's new risk and audit committee and, according to Ms Hardaker, he replied thanking her for it.

Ms Hardaker said she wasn't surprised the council didn't appear to be on the Government's watch-list for the minister's briefing.

"The feedback we've had is they are very happy with the progress ... [Mr Carter] has indicated to me he's no longer got any issues.

"What we will be doing, however, is sending him a copy of our finalised one-year plan and he's indicated he wants to receive a copy of that. But other than that he's indicated there are no issues."

However, Mr Carter last night said the council was still on notice and he was monitoring its progress.

He said he would continue to work with his officials and the mayor and had not yet decided when this would stop. The minister did not respond to questions about the council's performance.

A working group meeting next week will look at conflicts of interest, induction of new members and governance of external boards.

- NZ Herald

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