Councillors unable to vote on changes

Kate Wilson
Kate Wilson
Two Otago regional councillors who are farmers have been deemed unable to vote on changes the council is considering around the issue of water permits.

Crs Kate Wilson and Gary Kelliher own sheep farms that hold water permits requiring renewal.

The council is considering a plan change for the way water permits are issued.

The matter of whether some councillors had conflicts of interest around voting on decisions on freshwater management arose last month when a related discussion was stalled.

The council’s chief executive then applied to the Auditor-General on behalf of four councillors for exemptions and/or declarations to allow them to participate in such discussions and decisions by the council.

The Auditor-General today issued a decision that Cr Wilson, whose Middlemarch farm holds one water permit, and Cr Kelliher, whose Central Otago farm holds two water permits, cannot vote on the Water Permit Plan Change because they have a financial interest, through their farm operations, in the outcome of the decision.

Gary Kelliher.
Gary Kelliher.
Crs Andrew Noone, a sheep and cattle farmer, and Carmen Hope, a sheep and beef farmer, were deemed not to have conflicts of interest because the did not hold any water permits.

The council would still have a quorum even though two councillors would be unable to participate in the Water Permit Plan Change decision, the Auditor-General’s decision said.

The council is expected to vote today in a public-excluded session on whether to notify the Water Permit Plan Change under the Resource Management Act 1991 (the RMA).

Any decision to notify will be made public later.

The Water Permit Plan Change will bridge the gap between the expiry of existing affected permits and a new Regional Policy Statement and Land and Water Plan for Otago and will require holders of those permits to apply for new permits that will last up to seven years.

The council will vote on March 25 on whether to notify the Omnibus Plan Change, which would strengthen water quality provisions by introducing new rules for managing animal waste, particularly effluent.

The Auditor-General did not consider any of the councillors to have conflicts of interest in voting on the Omnibus Plan Change, as they either had no financial interest in the outcome of the vote, or in Cr Noone’s case such remote or insignificant financial interest that it ‘‘cannot reasonably be regarded as likely to influence him in voting, or taking part in discussion, of those matters’’. 

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