Two Hamilton councillors have been reminded about appropriate behaviour after complaints were made about one of them using their position on council to leverage their new business.
But Hamilton councillors Geoff Taylor and Mark Bunting, who are the directors of Appsolutely Waikato, which launched The Hamilton App in August, deny there is any conflict of interest and said they had been upfront about the news and community app from the start.
Hamilton councillor Siggi Henry complained to the chief executive twice, once in August and via email in September, after Bunting promoted the Hamilton App during a council meeting and an Access Hamilton meeting, according to information released to the Herald under the Official Information Act.
Henry also raised her concerns with governance staff requesting information about councillors' declarations of interests and the chief executive Richard Briggs was advised.
Briggs, who had been away when the second complaint was lodged, finally spoke to both Bunting and Taylor on September 13 and told them it was not appropriate to promote the app when they were acting in their capacity as elected members, to avoid any perception of conflict of interest or suggestion the app was endorsed by Hamilton City Council.
"Cr Taylor and Cr Bunting expressed their understanding of this expectation and Cr Henry was advised of the outcome," the statement from the privacy officer Lee-Ann Jordan said.
On the same day as their meeting with Briggs and more than a month after the app had launched, the councillors also advised staff of their interest in Appsolutely Waikato Ltd so it could be recorded on the elected members conflict register.
Bunting said one of Henry's complaints referred to when he mentioned the "excellent app" at a council meeting when making a question about why there weren't any events happening at the Clarence St Theatre as that is where they are listed. "I was basically just using it as information, but Siggi took offence to me saying it was an excellent app. Why I have no idea - I don't even think she had downloaded it herself."
He could not recall what he had done to prompt the complaint at the Access Hamilton meeting.
Bunting said they always had to be careful about who they were representing when attending community events and reporting on council.
"It's a very fine line that we tread, but we are very conscious of that everyday."
Taylor, who oversees the editorial content, said they had declared a potential conflict even though they didn't believe there was one and had their own policies in place to make sure one didn't happen.
The app was about community and local news such as school events and the only council reports would be from press releases.
"I don't go into politics, people don't want to read about politics and I certainly don't want to write about politics so it's completely different. So no conflict of interest whatsoever, it's a community local news app."
Henry said she complained to staff because she thought it was unprofessional that any councillor would promote their own business during a council meeting. "We are there representing our citizens not for our own financial interests.
"We are taking risks of being accused of conflict of interest," she said.
A staff member also raised concerns about the Hamilton App being advertised on a public notice board at Hamilton's central city library. Hamilton App staff put the marketing material up initially with staff consent but after seeking clarification with the chief executive about whether it could be used to advertise commercial activities it was removed on September 27.
The app has also been promoted by council's event website HLive, with it announcing in August that it was "stoked" its website was linking up with the new app.
"If you want up-to-the-minute Hamilton event details, local news, handy info like local traffic reports and local business listings and soo much more at your finger tips then you are going to want to give this app a download," the HLive Facebook post said.
Hamilton City Council's privacy officer said there could be a potential conflict of interest if elected members started a business where they could be leveraging their position on council for their own personal/financial benefit.
On announcing the launch of The Hamilton App at the start of August, Bunting posted on a local Facebook page: "No, it's not a 'council' thing. It's just something me and a mate launched a week ago to make life in Hamilton easier and even better. I'd appreciate you downloading it and having a gander."
Earlier this year, Hamilton mayor Andrew King declared a conflict of interest and removed himself from voting on rates changes after the Herald revealed he owned or had an interest in more than 30 properties in the city and his rates bill would drop almost $22,000 under the preferred changes.