Restricted council liaison group draws criticism

Lee Vandervis
Lee Vandervis
Calls for more city councillors to be included in a new group to liaise with the Dunedin City Council's council-controlled organisations (CCOs) has been rejected, prompting criticism from some councillors.

Plans for the group were first debated at a finance, strategy and development committee meeting on March 14, and approved after a fractious debate at yesterday's full council meeting.

The group would comprise Mayor Dave Cull, deputy mayor Cr Chris Staynes, acting chief executive Athol Stephens finance, strategy and development committee chairman Cr Syd Brown and his deputy, Cr Richard Thompson.

Members would not have decision-making powers, but act as a conduit between the wider council and the CCOs, such as when the need arose to discuss commercially sensitive matters at short notice, a staff report said.

Speaking at yesterday's meeting, Mr Cull said he had - following a request at the March 14 meeting - agreed to consider allowing other councillors to also attend the group's meetings, without speaking rights.

However, advice from Dunedin City Holdings Ltd and CCO staff was that a larger group at meetings could stifle "full and frank" discussion, making the meetings "pointless", he said.

He was therefore of the view the new group should remain limited to those already named.

That prompted protests from Crs Lee Vandervis, who labelled the move "anti-democratic" and the group "a political cabal" designed to prevent some councillors - including himself and Fliss Butcher - from asking questions.

"The only reason for the existence of this political group was to be politically selective about who is allowed to speak to our CCO [staff].

"I think it's vital we vote this out and vote democracy in," he said.

Cr Fliss Butcher also criticised the restrictions as "disgusting", saying councillors were all elected equally.

"I think this is an absolutely undemocratic thing to do," she said.

"I do not see any reason why those of us who have been elected to represent the people of this city . . . can not be there to listen."

Mr Cull said any councillor remained free to question any CCO staff member outside the meetings, but the selection process for the group was based on council positions - not individual personalities.

Involving all councillors, while it might "appear ideal", would have been unworkable, he said.

The group won support from Cr Thompson, who said that far from taking something away from councillors, the new group would only add to processes already available to scrutinise CCOs.

"It does not change in any way whatsoever the access councillors currently have," he said.

Councillors voted 8-3 to establish the group, with Crs Butcher, Vandervis and Teresa Stevenson opposed.

Crs Paul Hudson, the DCHL chairman, and Kate Wilson, a director of Taieri Gorge Ltd, both withdrew from the vote.

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