A boycott by four councillors yesterday blocked a bid by opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) to get the Wanganui District Council to support their cause.
Three councillors - Helen Craig, Philippa Baker-Hogan and Rob Vinsen - stayed out of the council chamber and were joined by councillor Ray Stevens, who left the meeting as soon as supporters began their presentation.
The TPPA group filled the chamber gallery to present their petition wanting the council to support a 12-point resolution asking the Government to ensure its involvement in the free trade agreement provided positive benefits for the Wanganui community.
But the absence of the four councillors left the meeting without a quorum, so efforts by their remaining colleagues to support the petitioners' case were effectively blocked. The lack of the necessary number of councillors for a quorum was only recognised when the mayor, Annette Main, moved a motion essentially supporting the petition and its resolutions.
The abrupt end to the debate stunned those in the gallery, leaving most bewildered and upset.
A couple who were at the meeting approached the Chronicle to say they were extremely disappointed with the walkout. Jenny and David Smith said councillors were paid to attend meetings and they could have listened to what the delegation had to say.
"This was a public submission. This has been an eye-opener into how some councillors behave during the democratic process," Mr Smith said.
"Many people took time off work to come down and support the petition - now we have to do it again."
Mr Vinsen later told the Chronicle he did not believe that supporting the TPPA group was "local government business".
He said: "I trust this current Government to negotiate in our best interests on this treaty."
Ms Main told the supporters she was "really disappointed" with the action of the four councillors.
"I apologise to you all on behalf of this council because I believe you have valid concerns."
She assured the group that the matter would be back on the council agenda at a future date.
Three speakers represented the petitioners. David James said they wanted the council to take a leadership role and take their concerns to central government.
Mr James said the treaty represented a sell-out to major corporations which could have a huge effect on Wanganui's community and economy.
Auckland, Nelson and Tasman councils have adopted the resolutions while others have accepted them partially.
Mike Nixon said the agreement meant even councils such as Wanganui's "could be bullied by big corporations".
Councillor Hamish McDouall said the council had the chance to show democracy at work by supporting the petitioners.
Councillors Sue Westwood and Rangi Wills were absent from all council meetings yesterday having earlier tendered their apologies.