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Sarah Gardner
Sarah Gardner
A "video ref" is being called in to see who is right, as Otago regional councillors and the chief executive continue to be at odds.

The council is reviewing its code of conduct after a failed bid by chief executive Sarah Gardner to censure deputy chairman Michael Laws last year.

But it became clear yesterday there is disagreement about the scope of the review and the council will revisit the video recording of a February meeting to set the record straight.

The disagreement yesterday came as Mrs Gardner presented a "protocol" that formalised a rule that councillors should not speak to staff about council business unless the staff were one of five general managers, or her.

Doing otherwise would be a breach of the code of conduct, Mrs Gardner’s protocol said.

Because her protocol was tied to the code, the suggestion was made to include it in the review.

Michael Laws
Michael Laws
Mrs Gardner questioned the appropriateness of doing so and then went on to tell councillors there was no "full review".

"As I understand it, it’s a very narrow look at the code."

"That’s not my understanding at all," Cr Laws countered.

"My understanding is that we are doing a review of the code of conduct with the purpose of making it fit for purpose."

The review of the code was a consequence of it being found deficient after Mrs Gardner’s "failed attempt to hinder an elected member’s freedom of speech", Cr Laws later said.

"The [chief executive] seems to keep fighting battles lost," he said.

Cr Kevin Malcolm said the resolution passed at the February meeting could be interpreted two ways.

"Using the video ref to gain clarity seems a very good option," he said.

The video would be reviewed by Mrs Gardner and chairman Andrew Noone and a report made to the next governance, communication and engagement committee.

Seven-term councillor Michael Deaker, who chaired yesterday’s committee meeting, sided with Cr Laws’ view in the meeting.

He said he had never seen councillors ask for a video review when revisiting a resolution.

"That was a new one for me," Cr Deaker said.

"The February council resolution was perfectly clear, in my view."

Cr Gary Kelliher said the recordings made of meetings allowed context associated with resolutions to be reviewed.

Cr Hilary Calvert said misunderstandings happened more often when councillors drafted resolutions because when staff proposed doing something they knew exactly what they meant, even if the language was not perfectly clear, and could carry out what they planned if councillors passed it.

Cr Alexa Forbes said she was frustrated by the number of resolutions at the council made on the fly.

She was further frustrated with code of conduct issues and the just launched "Panckhurst investigation" of staff actions serving as distractions at the council.

"I’m not accusing anyone of being cynical in all this, I just don’t want those distractions."

"I’m not sure that [Mrs Gardner] trying to reign in some of the more outspoken elements and partisan elements of our governance team with a ‘code’ as she was trying to get across the line today, I don’t think that’s going to work," Cr Forbes said.

"Because you have to operate in a high-trust environment, and we have not got that at the moment."

A council spokesman said it was not common for staff to review meeting recordings to understand the intent of council decisions.


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How long does the ratepayer have to put up with this childish nonsense? It's about time these people were dismissed and the ORC wound up completely never to be seen or heard of again. Is there not somebody in the halls of power who can do something about this utter stupidity?

The ORC are turning Otago into the laughing stock of New Zealand ... when the hell is someone going to sack the lot of them, bring in a commissioner and have fresh re-elections with all previous serving councillors excluded.

This is costing the people of Otago not only millions of dollars, but what Otago was once very well known for ... PRIDE & HONESTY !!

Hard to see Ms Gardner being given any extension on her tenure at ORC given the Councillors are her employer. And Mr Deaker, seven terms with near zero contribution- it may be time to step down and let someone else have a go mate. What a shambles

Deaker is the tip of the iceberg. Most of the incumbent Councillors are a waste of space!!!!

This beggars belief! The Chief Executive forbidding Councillors to speak to staff is an assault on the democratic process. For decades Councillors at ORC have been free to talk to staff. In many situations such as Council Hearings staff have to work closely with Councillors and assist them in decision making and writing decisions. What Gardner is proposing is unworkable. Over the last four years under the current Executive, the relationship between Council and Staff has been destroyed. The main reason for this is that most of the experienced staff were either fired or resigned and the new staff do not have the appropriate qualifications, experience or knowledge to work competently. The blame for this falls squarely on the Executive. The 73% rates increase is being frittered away by an incompetent executive that is out of control and Councillors who do not know how or when to stop this!

The antics at ORC are a bit like something out of a Monty Python sketch. It would be funny if it were not for the fact that ratepayers (remember our 75% rate increase) are paying for all this? It would appear that the Executive has no idea about communications within an organisation. Effectively gagging staff and forbidding them to speak to Councillors suggests that there is no confidence in staff and that any issues are sanatised or covered up. Staff are at the front line working with ratepayers. It is essential that they are able to speak to Councillors. The Chief Executive appears to be completely out of her deapth and should be removed. If we had had Commissioners this problem might have been avoided?

Playing games of one upmanship between the Chief Executive and Councillors is a joke. ORC's record over the last four years has been a disaster. Huge increase in rates, failure to properly apply their own plans and government legislation, the threat of Commissioners. On top of this, the culture within ORC has turned septic; something we might expect to see in the Kremlin. An inquisition over staff mistakes and Councillors forbidden to talk to staff. Over 30 years ORC built a reputation as one of the best regional councils in New Zealand. Over the last four years ORC and Otago has been turned into a laughing stock. It's time for change but the Councillors have no idea what to do??

Amen to all the above!

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