Councillors want open workshop

By Mike Barrington

With local government elections later this year, Whangarei District Council representatives are sorting out team tactics and seeing who is playing ball.

Three councillors - Brian McLachlan, Aaron Edwards and Crichton Christie - have made a bold opening move to get voters on their side by appealing to Mayor Morris Cutforth to let the public participate in a council workshop tomorrow.

In an open letter the mayor received early yesterday, the trio said confidential topics to be covered at the workshop included financial matters not included in the district's Long Term Plan.

If matters to be discussed at the workshop were approved, other projects already promised would miss out, the letter said. "We are calling on you to have this workshop in an open session so as to fulfil your promise, which we support, to have open and transparent council where nothing is hidden or covered up."

The trio didn't give the game away by revealing what will be on the agenda when the council goes into a huddle at the workshop behind closed doors tomorrow. And neither did Mr Cutforth when the Northern Advocate asked whether the letter had persuaded him to blow the whistle on council secrecy.

However, he did mention things could get difficult when councillors were members of "ginger groups" such as sports organisations and got upset when rival groups received council financial help.

So when it emerged that Crs McLachlan and Edwards are keen on walking and cycling, Cr Christie is a hockey fan and deputy mayor Cr Phil Halse is chairman of the Northland Rugby Union, the Advocate asked if the confidential meeting was about the controversial development of sports facilities on Pohe Island.

Mr Cutforth sidestepped that question, but Pohe Island is our top tip if punters place bets on likely workshop topics.

The mayor said he was disappointed Crs McLachlan, Edwards and Christie had not raised their concerns face-to-face with him before sending him the open letter.

Issues discussed in workshops were confidential because of commercial sensitivity. The merits of individuals and companies, cost estimates and other factors in council business could be discussed frankly so there were no surprises when the matters later moved into public meetings.

Mr Cutforth said he had little to say in open meetings, seeing his role as a referee.

So would he be back seeking another turn with the whistle in October, or be a spectator on the sideline?

The mayor flagged that one too, saying his health was still a concern but he might be feeling a lot better in May or June.

"Ask me again then."

- Northern Advocate

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