Rotorua Lakes Council has delegated power to the chief executive for at least a month or until the Government changes laws governing quorum.

In an extraordinary meeting of the council on Wednesday morning, the council voted to approve delegation of all functions to chief executive Geoff Williams until the council next meets in light of disruptions to business arising from the Covid-19 national lockdown.

Williams' powers would exclude functions that could not be delegated under the Local Government Act.

The delegation would remain in place until the council next met.

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In a report to the council approved by strategy manager Jean Paul Gaston, officers set out the reasons for the delegation of power to the chief executive.

Rotorua Lakes Council chief executive Geoff Williams. Photo / File
Rotorua Lakes Council chief executive Geoff Williams. Photo / File

The report said the Local Government Act set out provisions for quorum of the council as a majority of members.

To be counted as present for that purpose, an elected member had to be physically present at the meeting. As this was set out in law, the council could not amend the requirements by council resolution.

"Under current legislation, council will not be able to meet and make decisions once the country moves to alert level four," the report stated.

"Thereafter, it will also be unable to make decisions if it is still unable to meet quorum requirements."
Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website
It was similar to the "interregnum period", which occurred between elections and the inaugural meeting of a new council, the report said.

"At this stage, council will not be able to meet until alert level 4 is lifted in at least four weeks' time (or later, depending on the public health situation at that time)."

There was, however, a possibility the Government would modify quorum restrictions in the Local Government Act.

That could mean the council could once again achieve quorum as members met via video link. Council staff understood the quorum restrictions were "on central government's radar".

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"Unless and until that happens, however, the extended delegations will be required … If the recommendation is not approved then the matters covered by the extended delegations will not be able to be decided on or carried out until council next meets, which may not be for at least four weeks, and in all likelihood, longer."

Councillor Reynold Macpherson, who joined the meeting via video conferencing app Zoom link, was the first to query the recommendation.

He said given the link was "quite effective" not being able to meet physically was no longer a justification for "such a degree of concentration of power in one person's hands".

Corporate planning and governance manager Oonagh Hopkins reminded Macpherson a law change was required in order for councillors to make decisions.

However, councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said she agreed with Macpherson.

"We know we're entering uncharted waters. I heard this morning it's likely to be 12 weeks before we see any lifting … to get back to level one.

"As much as possible, it should be business as usual around the council table."

She said she understood physical presence was required by law to achieve quorum.

"We could have still been undertaking the business of council, making our decisions and then, at the appropriate time … pass a resolution that the decisions we made during this time be reconfirmed by a show of hands.

"That's what I would have liked to have seen, because I think our community want to know that we're still going about the business of council.

"We want them to know we're still doing the job we're elected for, even though it's changing times. They want to have that assurance that it's not all breaking down.

"We can still make decisions and at some stage get those ratified again."

Williams said there had been similar delegations through two elections.

"From my recollection, in both of those elections there's never been a decision taken under delegation.

"Effectively there wasn't a decision made that needed to be reported back to council.

"It is unusual circumstances that a chief executive under delegation would need to make a decision."

He said meetings could be run online, but decisions couldn't be applied immediately.

"You couldn't actually go to action a decision until you ratified it."

He said the delegation of power was a mechanism whereby decisions that were made online could immediately be acted on through him.

He did not propose or foresee a decision being made only in consultation with the mayor and deputy mayor, but with the consultation of the full council, he said.

Macpherson said he understood the need for delegation but "implored" Williams to remain "benevolent and consultative".

The council also changed its own standing orders rules regarding member participation of meetings via video link.

Previously, participation via that channel had not been allowed. It would also give members of the public the ability to attend via video link, but in both cases it would be overseen by the chairperson of the meeting.

In the meeting, the council also voted to adopt, in principle, the Government's Covid-19 strategy and begin work on the development of a Rotorua Lakes Council approach.

A report titled "Covid-19 and the Rotorua Lakes Council Response" stated that approach would be based on protecting Rotorua's "people and community", cushioning economic and social impacts, and positioning the district for recovery.
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All recommendations in the meeting were passed unanimously.

The three-and-a-half-hour meeting, which finished around midday, was not open to the public nor the media, the council instead recording the meeting.

The video of the meeting was uploaded to Youtube around 6pm on Wednesday.

What powers are excluded under the Act?

There are some restrictions on the delegated powers handed over to the chief executive, under the Local Government Act.

They are the power to set rates, bylaws, borrow money, purchase or dispose of assets, adopt long-term, annual plans or annual reports.

Also excluded was the power to appoint a chief executive, adopt a remuneration or employment policy or policies required to be adopted or consulted on under the Act.