A Rotorua district councillor says some mayors are "all over the place", "ill-informed" and have their "head in the sand" over the Government's proposed Three Waters reform.
The comments were made by Rotorua Lakes councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait at a hastily-arranged council meeting on Monday morning to establish a Three Waters committee, made up of council and mana whenua representatives.
"From what I have seen so far, from local mayors, they're all over the place.
"They're ill-informed, they're not sure what they're doing, some of them, even at this early stage are putting their hand up to opt out.
"They need to be quite informed about what's happening, not only locally but nationally as well ... and get an idea of what other people are doing as well."
Speaking to Local Democracy Reporting after the meeting, Raukawa-Tait said some councils were "putting their head in the sand" over Three Waters Reform and some were prematurely rejecting it.
"At this stage, it's just a discussion. Councils have to understand they do have to have a conversation."
The Government announced the proposed $760 million reform on Wednesday last week. It could see the creation of four publicly-owned entities which would manage drinking water, stormwater and wastewater. The proposal allowed councils to opt out of the reforms.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said it would save ratepayers money and safeguard an estimated $120 billion to $185b of required investment in water services.
Some, such as Waikato District Council mayor Allan Sanson and Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate welcomed the announcement while others, such as Gisborne District Council mayor Rehette Stoltz and Marlborough mayor John Leggett said more information was needed.
Last Tuesday, ahead of the Government announcement, Whangārei District Council provisionally opted out of the proposed reform, with mayor Sheryl Mai saying it wanted the Government to "substantiate its claims" ratepayers would be better off under the reform.
Auckland mayor Phil Goff didn't rule out participation, but expressed scepticism about the scheme saying the proposed reform was "complex and confused on governance" and did not ensure responsiveness and accountability.
Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan said the reform could constitute "a turd degree burn for ratepayers", adding bigger didn't always mean better.
Local Democracy Reporting approached Mai and Gurunathan regarding Raukawa-Tait's comments.
Mai said each council needed to make their own decision, and hers had been unanimous.
"We do know what we're doing, and our heads are not in the sand."
She said Raukawa-Tait hadn't contacted her "to understand what I do and do not know".
"We know our assets probably better than anybody else.
"Each council needs to make its own decision."
Gurunathan said he understood the national issues but the reform was aiming for outcomes Kāpiti District Council had "already achieved" and he believed the changes would result in some councils "subsidising" others with poorer assets.
"Mayors have a right to speak up for our ratepayers."
To face the reforms, Rotorua Lakes Council would need to protect its hard-won relationships with mana whenua through the reform process, council Te Arawa partnerships deputy chief executive Gina Rangi told the council today.
In a report for Monday's meeting, she recommended the council established a new committee with a co-governance model which would consider the impacts of the Three Waters reform on the council's partnerships with mana whenua.
The new committee would also make recommendations to the council and mana whenua on the issue.
The committee would consist of the mayor Steve Chadwick, deputy mayor Dave Donaldson, councillor Trevor Maxwell and committee chairwomen Tania Tapsell and Merepeka Raukawa Tait, as well as five mana whenua representations, who would be drawn from mana whenua partnership groups such as Te Tatau o Te Arawa.
The committee would be co-chaired by the mayor and one of the mana whenua representatives.
It would come at a cost of less than $25,000, which would be for the five Te Arawa elected members' remuneration.
The recommendation was ultimately adopted by the council and the committee established. Councillors Raj Kumar, Peter Bentley and Reynold Macpherson voted against it.
In the meeting, Te Tatau o Te Arawa chairman Te Taru White said the council would need to be mindful some mana whenua would reserve the right to go directly to the Crown with any issues about the reforms, which Chadwick said she understood.
Macpherson said the council had to decide whether or not it was "important to include diverse voices in such decision-making".
He said views on co-governance were not universally shared by ratepayers "by any means".
"There is a great diversity of views of the appropriateness in the manner in which co-governance is being advanced."
Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said Rotorua needed to be "ahead of the pack" and said the formation of the committee would be an "important step forward in the way we address this fast-moving process".
"This committee cannot operate in an atmosphere where the actual notion of co-governance is being challenged.
"It is recommendatory to council, and it's at full council when the recommendations come forward, that those alternate views on co-governance can be raised by any member who wishes to do so."