An investigation by Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) into the governance processes of Tararua District Council (TDC) has found it is a well-performing, rural council, but it can do better.
But Eketahuna's Warren Davidson, whose sudden resignation sparked the review, isn't sure if change is possible under the current regime.
The review of the council's governance policies, systems and processes was requested by the council following the shock resignation last year of Mr Davidson and his allegations of bullying and abuse from Mayor Roly Ellis and chief executive Blair King.
The review by LGNZ says it found the governance processes in place are fit for purpose and consistent with the practice of well-performing, rural councils.
However, it has also made recommendations for lifting the bar in some areas.
"These improvements represent, in our view, excellence in governance practice," the report said. Deputy Mayor Bill Keltie, said he was pleased with the review.
"We've come out of this quite well after the allegations, which were thrown at us at first."
Meanwhile, council chief executive Blair King acknowledged his council would strive for excellence.
"While [LGNZ] consider we have robust processes, by implementing their recommendations it will take us to excellence," he said.
Mr Davidson told the Dannevirke News there were aspects of the report he liked and others which left him less impressed. "Given the report is not from a neutral party, it is quite frank about Tararua District Council. It raises a number of significant issues regarding leadership and culture with suggestions for improvement. Whether change is possible with the current regime is an open question."
However, Mr Davidson said with regard to the introduction the report makes comment about looking back and being able to resolve matters subject to hearsay.
"I note that LGNZ was given guidance by TDC on what to review which excluded events leading to my resignation," he said. "I mentioned in my interview with LGNZ that documentation is available on some of the matters I raised, so disagree with the report comment."
In preparing its report, LGNZ met with councillors, senior staff and Mr Davidson, while also reviewing copies of the council's primary governance documents, including the Code of Conduct and the Governance Statement.
The review assessed the degree to which the governance policies and processes used by the council were sufficient for dealing with tensions that might arise as a result of robust debate over significant local matters.
LGNZ said its review did not focus on whether or not the reasons Mr Davidson gave for his resignation were accurate.
"Indeed, in the absence of video and voice recordings of events, such a review simply devolves to documenting different peoples' perspectives and recollections of events; an inherently subjective and backward looking exercise," the report said.
Mr Davidson said the report also touches on the issue of dispute resolution with regard to the ineffective Code of Conduct process.
"It mentions employees have clear options which are not available to elected members.
"But it is not only Code of Conduct matters which have no external checks and balances. For example council's position on an issue as well as the Code of Conduct can be ignored with impunity currently [eg, bullying and abuse, undermining and preventing elected members from fulfilling the roles they have been elected to].
"My view is that the Office of the Auditor General should be required to have oversight of these matters to improve the performance of councils.
"Local Government generally and Tararua District Council in particular, will continue to be seen, for good reason, to be failing until they address this lack of checks and balances."
Meanwhile, Councillor David Roberts said he was happy with the report outcome.
"Although there was no investigation into the allegations [from Mr Davidson] as such, the report does say what we have in place is robust," he said.
"I don't believe those allegations had any justification."
The report said LGNZ was impressed with the detail and depth of the material presented to councillors at an induction workshop after each general election. However, it did not see much time devoted to the question of how councillors will work together, what they sought to achieve by standing for council and agreed success factors, in short, the process for building a team.
"Some councillors commented that an opportunity would have made their journey into the world of local government that much easier," the report said.
But LGNZ was impressed that Tararua District councillors have the freedom and support to approach members of the senior leadership team separately to obtain updates on issues and it was an approach it would be recommending to other councils.
Amongst its recommendations for council, LGNZ said the TDC should investigate providing elected members with access to a counselling service for use when they may be experiencing significant stress and for the council to review its Code of Conduct to incorporate recent best practice.
Mr Davidson has previously told the Dannevirke News he followed all the channels in an effort to resolve his issues, but without success and was disappointed more than 10 years with the council had ended in his dramatic resignation.