Hobbs ousted, Noone takes over at ORC

Andrew Noone has been elected the new chairman of Otago Regional Council against a backdrop of protest.

He is taking over from Marian Hobbs, who was voted out by councillors this morning.

Councillors voted 9-2 in favour of her removal. Ms Hobbs abstained.

Mr Noone, her replacement, was then chosen as chairman. He was the only nominee. Ten councillors supported his appointment and two abstained.

"We will be a team of 12," Mr Noone said upon taking on the role.

The change in chairmanship took place amid some acrimony.

Protesters gathered outside the Dunedin building that houses the council chambers, Philip Laing House, in Rattray St from 8.30am.

They then filled the public gallery.

Andrew Noone
Andrew Noone

The demonstration was organised by the Central Otago Environmental Society and several people there carried signs.

In promoting the event on Facebook, the society argued Cr Hobbs faced the vote because she was "a battler for the environment in Otago, and particularly our rivers".

Councillors have said the vote was about leadership, not water policy.

The society had earlier argued some councillors ought not to be allowed to vote because of conflicts of interest but that was rejected by the Office of the Auditor-General.

The extraordinary meeting, called specifically to consider the removal of Cr Hobbs as chairwoman, started at 9am.

Outbursts from the public followed the vote.

Cr Hobbs, a former minister for the environment in national politics, is in her first term as an Otago regional councillor.

Marian Hobbs
Marian Hobbs
She was sometimes criticised for being out of sync with her team of councillors.

Councillors were also miffed that she did not stand aside when it was clear she had lost their support.

Nine councillors signed letters on June 15, requesting the extraordinary meeting. Cr Hobbs conceded she had essentially no chance of keeping the role but she vowed to have it stripped from her in a public setting.

Mr Noone's career in local government began nearly three decades ago when he was elected on to the Waikouaiti Coast Community Board.

After two terms there, he joined the Dunedin City Council in 1998 and was determined to be "a good representative of the Waikouaiti Coast area''.

He retired from the city council in 2016 after 18 years as a councillor.

He is serving his second term on the Otago Regional Council.

A sheep and beef farmer for more than 30 years, Mr Noone was fined $500 by his own council in 2018 after a complaint about sheep trampling in a waterway.

Mr Noone called it a mistake, describing the waterway as a swale that sometimes held water, and council staff said a prosecution was not warranted.

Former deputy chairwoman Gretchen Robertson has described Mr Noone as experienced and well liked - intelligent, kind and down to earth. As chairman, "Andrew is the right choice for right now".

He is also deputy chairman of the Dunedin District Licensing Committee and a certified Resource Management Act commissioner.

In an opening statement to the meeting, Ms Hobbs said it had been a long 21 days since she was notified of the plan to remove her.

"I was too effective in pushing the water reforms," she said.

Applause followed her speech.

Cr Michael Deaker said the council needed knowledgeable, unifying, calm and cohesive leadership.

Cr Alexa Forbes said framing the issue as just about personality and leadership was "rubbish".

Cr Bryan Scott said "our chair called a spade a spade and, frankly, some people didn't like it".

Cr Gretchen Robertson said councillors had not been working as a team.

"I do feel sad about where we've got to."

She said Ms Hobbs would still have a strong role in the council.

Deputy chairman Michael Laws, chairing the meeting, rejected the idea that the council was trying to ignore national standards.

Collegiality was critical, he said.

"I don't believe this council has walked away from you. I believe you've walked away from this council," he said to Ms Hobbs.

"The job of chairperson is to work with us all."

"Shame," a member of the public responded.

Ms Hobbs said she would not back away from arguing for the environment.



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Awesome! Now, let's start looking at DCC for similar changes!

DCC is chaired by a Mayor who is elected by voters, unlike a regional council chair who is appointed by their fellow elected members. Similar change of chair can't happen at DCC. It is in the hands of voters in 2022.

True - a Mayor is DIRECTLY voted in by the people, unlike the ORC Chairperson who is decided on by their fellow councillors by democratic vote. And a Mayor can appoint the Deputy Mayor and the Committee Chairs and Deputy Chairs. However, if that situation becomes unworkable in the view of the majority of Councillors, they can overturn the Mayor's appointments. I have been wondering whether this will happen at the DCC because Mayor Hawkins has only a handful of Councillors who can be relied on to vote with him on his Green Party platform.

Terrible news for the environment. Goodbye to Otago's chance to have rivers free of farm waste. Still, Algae looks pretty in the right light...just a pity that it kills everything else off.

Yay! Farmers rule! This is bound to help save our environment. I see they are already backing a proposal to intensify farming in Strath Taieri.

Unless we are going to import more food for our growing population, I don't see that as a country, we have a lot of choice. Farms are where virtually ALL our food comes from! Maybe if we curtailed our population growth our environment may be less pressured? We are all responsible for the environment, however we all continue to pollute excessively. On town and city roads the pollutant run off into waterways is appalling. It contains fuel, oil, rubber fragments, plastics, chemicals......and that too needs changing before we wave the big stick at farmers. Look at all the waste water that the towns and cities dump into the ocean.....Auckland is an excellent example of that! But no, we'll keep those babies arriving and continue dumping nappies into landfill.......with our feet firmly on the throttles, planning our next road trip or flight around the globe.
We're all guilty of excess and pollution Pat. I don't believe making scapegoats of farmers is a practical nor helpful approach.

Buzz, how much milk do we need for "our growing population"? Or is it China's population? You are however correct that, "We are all responsible for the environment". I hope you remember that when the true majority votes the self-serving farmers out of the ORC at the next election,

I agree with you Buzz about the state of our environment, which is exactly why we need a strong pro-enviroment regional council and not one compromised by wealthy land owners. I also agree about the importance of farming however if you are worried about not being able to feed the growing population of NZ you clearly do not know much about the industry!

Let's move forward now. She has been a huge distraction. I hope Hobbs doesn't continue to be a distraction and continue to make this about her.

Dodged a bullet there Otago. Miss Hobbs is an Environmental revolutionary wolf dressed as a sheep.

In reply to Mike and Pat. You have taken my statement too literally. It's not just a case of what we require for OUR population, it is also what we earn from the populations of OTHERS. If we curtail what we grow and produce here, we will indeed see ourselves IMPORTING more food products than we do currently and lessen our overseas earnings. Milk production is a huge overseas earner. Then consider all the supporting industries for the farms. The jobs, manufacturing, Vets, contractors, to name a few. However, tourism is/was the biggest earner, but look at the damage and the carbon footprint of that enterprise. That too will need some major changes and tighter regulations.....just as farmers have experienced. It's not just the waterways that have suffered, though that is the most obviously seen of our pollution. Most farmers are well aware of that and are actively making improvements to land and pollution management. It's part of the regulations now, and has been for a few years now.
Pat, I was raised on a farm, a family of farmers since 1867, my son is a farmer, I do have at least a very small understanding of the industry.

So Buzz you are clearly biased towards the farming community, you exaggerated the truth to make a political point and you seem determined to move the argument away from the real issue of having a council who have failed and continue to fail to protect the environment. Maybe you should stand for election? You would fit right in with the other councillors!

I'm not biased at all, to any industry Pat. A huge amount of our population are linked to farming in some way or another. I'm merely pointing out that before we vilify our hard working farmers, we should be looking at all the ways we persistantly continue to pollute the country. No one industry is responsible for all the water-way pollution. How on earth do you come up with the idea I 'exaggerated a truth'? Who said I'm trying to make a 'political point'? You're casting assumptions Pat. Sorry if my comment has been misconstrued or misunderstood. In future i will better choose my words in order to avoid the confusion and venom that often finds it's way into public forums.

My apologies to Buzz. My comments were not meant to be personal but tongue in cheek. Neither do I wish to vilify all farmers. At least we can agree that we must all do our part if we are to save our environment from further pollution.

And yes, we can certainly agree, best wishes to you Pat.

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