Three Rotorua district councillors say they will attend a community-led meeting about a Ngongotaha housing development, despite strong instruction from the council's chief executive not to go.
The issue of tonight's public meeting at Ngongotaha Hall was raised by mayor Steve Chadwick under urgent items during this morning's Rotorua Lakes Council Operations and Monitoring Committee meeting.
She said there appeared to be some "confusion" about the meeting and asked for clarification on its "status ... and if councillors attend, what their position is on the quasi-judicial process".
The meeting has been organised by local resident Patricia Hosking, who said it would be chaired by Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers secretary Reynold Macpherson.
Council chief executive Geoff Williams said the meeting had no "status" in the formal process and councillors were at risk of being seen to have a bias if they attended.
He said a council-led public information session had been set up for next week, which was the appropriate way to engage with the community over this issue.
However, councillors Peter Bentley, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait and Raj Kumar, who had signalled their intention to go to the meeting, told the Rotorua Daily Post they had not been swayed by Williams' advice and would still attend.
The public meeting relates to concerns that the Ngongotaha community was not properly consulted on plans to build nearly 200 houses as part of a new special housing development, the first under Rotorua's new housing accord.
Williams told councillors the issue with attending was that the council had an obligation through the Resource Management Act (RMA) to "operate a very clear, totally transparent process".
"The process is semi-judicial in nature, so it is imperative all of those involved in the decision making maintain neutrality in any type of position. Any signal of partiality will potentially cause challenge to the process ultimately made in council."
Williams said councillors attending or supporting meetings which were set up to "explicitly object to the SHA (Special Housing Accord) process" could be interpreted as listening to just one side's opinion.
"The proposers of the proposals for the SHA look at this and say 'councillors are attending, supporting and listening to the opposite side but no due consideration has been given to our voice. We haven't had the same opportunity'.
"This is why it is being heard in the RMA policy committee. The policy committee is the right vehicle for feedback to be provided to - that's what it was set up for.
"When you start working outside the established consultative process, if you are a member of the group who is ultimately making the decision you always run the risk that a party looks at your action and says 'this is quite clear this is supporting one view ... and therefore I am concluding the council is not impartial and therefore I'm going to challenge the decision they made through a judicial process'."
Williams went on to say the involvement of council staff was equally fraught because they could not be seen to be receiving feedback or acting on feedback outside the formal process.
"The only time staff can be involved is to give information to the public, not receive information from the public."
Councillors Karen Hunt and Rob Kent supported Williams' view, with Hunt asking that councillors "stay within the council environment".
"It is going to be harder for elected members to come to the table with no preconceived ideas if they attend or are seen to support or engage with the process outside of the council environment."
Kent said there was consultation coming within the formal framework for those affected by the proposal.
"There are mechanisms for consultation that will occur. The public meeting next week is to make sure people understand what that process is and how they can be involved."
Kumar said he felt it was his duty to listen to the community, which was why he would still attend tonight's meeting.
Raukawa-Tait and Bentley echoed his sentiments, saying they would not be there to undermine the formal process, but to get a grasp on the opinions of the community.