Hastings Deputy Mayor Cynthia Bowers says she welcomes any inquiry into whether there are conflicts of interest between her council role and her chairing of the company set up to run the Horse of the Year Show.
The inquiry has been called-for by Hastings woman Jessica Maxwell who was last year at the forefront of successful calls for a revamp of Hastings District Council dog control and the running of its city pounds.
Sparked by revelations that the company formed by the council, Showjumping Hawke's Bay and Horse of the Year brand owners Equestrian Sports NZ want more council funds to run the event, Ms Maxwell wrote to Local Government Minister Paula Bennett on Thursday, saying she wished to lay a formal complaint and wanted a ministry investigation. She also wanted Ms Bowers to step down from one of the roles.
Ms Maxwell said in the letter Horse of the Year (Hawke's Bay) Ltd, which has one representative from each of the stakeholders, as well as two independent directors, is a limited-liability company which has requested $150,000 from the council, and $100,000 from the Napier City Council to help with next year's show - up from last year's $35,000 and $10,000 respectively.
Ms Bowers said the company is registered as a not-for-profit organisation, and she and fellow directors do not have shares in the company and are volunteers who don't get paid for their roles on the board, she has been "absolutely scrupulously careful" to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
While she has no pecuniary interest in the company, her role as a director is noted in the register of councillor interests, and from the time she was appointed to the new company, as the representative of the council and its ratepayers, she declared her interest in related matters at the council table and refrained from voting.
She said the council has referred the situation to the Auditor-General previously. "They believe we are doing everything correctly," she said.
It is not the only company in which the council is involved. She is also the representative on Hawke's Bay Opera House Ltd, and the council also has Hastings District Properties, which deals with surplus property and one on which the council is represented by a staff member, and Hastings District Council Holdings.
Ms Bowers said the company, which she says was needed to secure the 15-year contract for the event which now costs over $2 million to run and pours an estimated $12 million into the Hawke's Bay economy each year, has also become aware of other council investment in other major events throughout the country.
"We haven't got the begging-bowl out," she said of the call for greater council financial support.
"It's simply trying to get councils to recognise the part this event plays. It's now bigger than (Napier event) Art Deco Weekend."
"It's a significant thing when you go to sponsors, and one of the first things they will ask is: How much is the council putting into it?"
Council support for major events in other centres ranges from cash contribution to provision of services, and Ms Bower said: "Now the new event manager has been appointed (Auckland-based SMC Events replacing the long-term local-based operation of equestrian identity Kevin Hansen) we are really open to new approaches from the councils."