Waikato Regional Council has awarded at least two large contracts, with a combined value of almost $1 million, without putting them out to tender.
The move has upset several councillors who did not believe they should be treated as exceptional circumstances and did not create an even playing field in the market.
However, those involved in the three-member-strong contract subcommittee which signed it off say it did follow a process of sorts and they are comfortable with the staff-recommended decision even though it is rare.
The contracts that were not put out to tender were the $426,624 plus GST contract awarded to the Ngati Haua Mahi Trust in relation to the Karapiro/Mangaonua Catchments and the $489,349 plus GST to Manaia locals for the Manaia River Restoration project.
A third contract, labelled the Clean Stream 2020 project, has not been awarded yet but is also to be granted an exception to tender.
The council's tender process states that the council must put a contract out to tender if it is valued at more than $250,000 or unless there is deemed to be an exceptional circumstance.
Waikato Regional Council senior adviser of special projects Julie Beaufill said there had been no policy breach as the Government's Covid-recovery stimulus package was deemed an exceptional circumstance requiring the council to work with local people and providers and iwi entities to get the projects going quickly.
The council believed the organisations chosen would achieve this and in some cases were the only ones who could provide local employment and ensure plants were eco-sourced.
While the contracts were not put out to tender, the exception was considered and approved by a tenders board made up of staff members. It was then signed off by the contracts sub-committee.
Councillor Fred Lichtwark was annoyed it had not followed the usual process and gone out to tender because he believed all groups should be given the same opportunity to apply for it. It was not council's job to have favourites, he said.
"How do we know we are getting value for money?"
Councillor Kathy White said she was personally concerned funding was going to certain groups without going through a tender process.
"I'm also worried that these projects and partnerships aren't getting full scrutiny by governance," she said.
"I can see the point that shovel-ready projects need fast processing, but I get nervous when I see that there are projects being funded to the same groups or closely related individuals through multiple council and central government avenues. We aren't creating a level playing field in the community and that can create disharmony."
However, councillor Andrew Macpherson, who sits on the council's sub-contract committee, said he had "convinced" himself the procurement process the council followed was good and would withstand scrutiny.
He argued that while the contract didn't go to tender, it went through a careful "tenders process" to get an exemption.
Macpherson said his election promise was to be careful critically evaluate business cases and make sure the council was investing its money wisely and he believed he had done that by supporting it.
"It's my understanding that the executive looked around at other possibilities and they had an idea because of the experience we've got with these sorts of projects we knew roughly what value these sorts of projects came in at and when we saw the numbers in front of us at the contracts sub-committee we were happy with the numbers.
"The recommendation not to tender was not made lightly and the staff in that contracts sub-committee said we don't do this lightly in asking for us to sign this project off. So as an elected member that's taking care of ratepayers' money - am I happy with the process that this project went through? Yes, I am."
Chairman Russ Rimmington, who is also on the contracts sub-committee, said the council was "white as snow" and had done everything by the book.
Rimmington said in regards to the Manaia project there was "no dirty pull" on it and it was his understanding that they were the only organisation in the area who could do it. The work would also be closely monitored.
"The criteria is so prescriptive that they require a high component of Māori workers and my understanding is that sometimes it is the only organisation that can do it," he said.
"I understand that this group plus the other tribes in the area said this is the only one that has the experience and they supported it 100 per cent."
Councillor Hugh Vercoe said he was aware of the issue, but did not sit on either of the committees that it had been raised at.