A new legal opinion received this week by Rotorua Lakes Council has confirmed there are no legal barriers to implementing the Te Arawa Partnership Model proposal, if the council resolves to do so.
The legal advice comes as Rotorua Lakes Council today started five days of hearings for residents who have made submissions on the proposal, following a seven week period of public consultation.
Local government legal experts, Tompkins Wake Lawyers, confirmed that the Te Arawa Partnership Model was "lawful and compliant" with the council's obligations under legislation.
Tomkins Wake said while council obligations set out in the Local Government Act were clear, how those obligations were to be met was a matter for the council to determine.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said the legal opinion was timely.
"It's now very clear that what we have proposed, and what we consulted on with the public, is all perfectly legal and absolutely in-line with legislative requirements.
"With this in mind, we can now focus on listening carefully to the 200 or so submitters speaking at hearings on this important issue over a five day period.
"Then we'll be ready and well-informed to start our deliberations and make decisions on the final shape of a model that fulfils our legal and moral obligations to Maori in this community," said Mrs Chadwick.
According to the Local Government Act, councils' obligations include providing opportunities for Maori to contribute to decision-making processes, and considering ways to foster the development of Maori capacity to contribute to those processes.
Tompkins Wake confirmed that the council had the legal authority to establish committees and to delegate functions to them, but the committees remained under the control of the council. Similarly, councils can appoint anyone to serve on a committee as long as at least one committee member is an elected member of the council.
Clause 31 (3) of Schedule 7 of the Local Government Act specifically permits councils to appoint people to committees who are not councillors if the council believes they have "skills, attributes or knowledge that will assist the work of the committee."
The legal opinion conceded that the issue of voting rights was a contentious one. However it said the provision of voting rights to non-elected members of committees was lawful.
Rotorua Lakes Council's Te Arawa Partnership Model proposal includes the establishment of a Te Arawa Board sitting outside of the council; appointment of Te Arawa representatives to specified council committees, hearing panels and working groups; and voting right for appointees on the council's Strategy, Policy & Finance Committee and Operations & Monitoring Committee.
The council is expected to make final decisions at a public meeting scheduled for May 26.
Hearings continue tomorrow.