Seems one or two of our regional councillors won't be sending Christmas cards to each other.

Napier-based regional councillor Neil Kirton told CHB-based regional councillor Debbie Hewitt to "take a hike" this week. He wasn't recommending his favourite track on Te Mata Peak.

Kirton told Hewitt where to go after she questioned him over a meeting protocol matter.

Kirton had just ventured via a point of order that it was the prerogative of regional councillors whether or not they declared pecuniary interests linked to council matters.


Hewitt shot back with "if they don't then it's a matter for the Auditor General" and questioned Kirton's point of order protocol.

"Take a hike," was Kirton's response.

Hewitt had earlier queried whether Cr Tom Belford had to declare his pecuniary interest in Bay Buzz magazine, given it received Hawke's Bay Regional Council money for advertising.

(As does Hawke's Bay Today.)

After some back and forth debate and discussion, CEO James Palmer said he had no problem with the advertising from a staff point of view.

Apparently, unless it's more than $25,000, councillors don't have to declare a pecuniary interest in anything.

Chairman Rex Graham had no problem either.

The catalyst for the discussion was an $800 Napier Port consultation advertisement in Bay Buzz.


Hewitt said she had been assured by council staff there was no port consultation advertising in Bay Buzz. The assurance came after a workshop that touched on the importance of clarity around such things, she said.

Palmer was very clear - any decision to advertise in Bay Buzz was made by staff without influence from councillors.

Not long after, Belford told councillors he hoped the advertising wouldn't stop.

"I know my staff will be diligently pursuing advertising from HBRC in the future. And they are not going to stop and hopefully the advertising won't stop.''

Allan Dick pointed out he was not being critical of the Bay Buzz example, but "councillors and staff should know what are the legal rules that are there to protect them and avoid people getting themselves into trouble''.

It was the most common sense observation of the debate. Because the clearest point that arose from the debate is that councillors have conflicting views on what should and shouldn't be disclosed.

Belford has been the subject of conflict of interest debates before.

In 2014, it was determined by then chairman Fenton Wilson that Belford could not vote on Plan Change 6 - an environmental management regime for the Tukituki catchment - because Belford had made a submission on behalf of Transparent Hawke's Bay to the board of inquiry opposing Plan Change 6.

Belford resigned from Transparent Hawke's Bay but continued to deny he had a conflict of interest.

As a former member of Transparent Hawke's Bay, Belford is ideally qualified to lead the way in demanding clarity around councillors pecuniary dealings with the council, so that his good name or that of any other councillor is not called into question.

At the moment, the rules - and let's be clear, the rules, not the councillors' conduct - are muddier than Pandora Pond after a few days' rain.