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Otago regional councillors grappled with perceptions of conflicts of interest at a regulatory committee meeting yesterday.

In total, four councillors left the meeting so others could ask questions about site consent audits and forestry inspections.

Crs Gretchen Robertson, Carmen Hope and Bryan Scott left the meeting held via videoconference, saying their respective conflicts presented a risk for the meeting.

Then after being cautioned by Otago Regional Council chief executive Sarah Gardner about his own potential conflict of interest in forestry matters, council chairman Andrew Noone protested briefly but left the meeting as well.

As he took over the role of chairing the meeting committee, co-chairman Cr Gary Kelliher said he disagreed with what was happening.

"Can I just say before you go [Mr Noone] that this is quite contrary to the legal advice that I have received around how I manage my conflicts.

"It’s down to what we choose to do and what we choose to say and how we vote, or step back from voting.

"It really turns the meeting into a bit of a shambles by having people having to be texted and communicated with to come back and enter and leave the meeting."

Crs Robertson, Scott, Alexa Forbes and Marian Hobbs wrote to Environment Minister David Parker last month, alleging, among other things, conflicts of interest for some councillors in the development of the council’s contentious land and water plan.

Mr Parker has said he will respond to the issues raised in the letter, and that officials were providing him with information and advice.

He also said he intended to invite Mr Noone to seek more information.

After the meeting, Cr Scott said he had always declared his ownership interest in a small forestry holding and made a point of leaving the council chamber when forestry was discussed.

"Most of us have some conflict of interest," he said.

"The challenge is to identify it and to remove any possible perception of bias in our community decision-making."

In the 2020-21 year, 38 forestry site inspections were completed.

Of those, three sites were graded low risk non-compliant, one site was graded moderately non-compliant and one site was graded significantly non-compliant.

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz

Comments

Another day, another ORC shambles. Thanks for the 72% rate increase and the additional 150 staff the ratepayers have to fund. Yet the use of external consultants continues to increase- that logic wouldn't stack up in the private sector.

A pathetic exhibition by elected councillors. Bring on Commissioner’s.

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