Council avoids meeting over safety fears

Clutha District Mayor Bryan Cadogan. PHOTO: RICHARD DAVISON
Clutha District Mayor Bryan Cadogan. PHOTO: RICHARD DAVISON
A Southern mayor says his council will not attend a community ratepayers meeting taking place tomorrow night, due to concerns about public safety.

A new group calling itself Clutha Concerned Citizens announced the meeting would take place during the public forum of the most recent Clutha District Council meeting, on February 15.

Group spokesman Phil Barrett invited councillors to attend the ratepayers meeting, saying it would be an opportunity for "honest engagement".

However, Clutha District Mayor Bryan Cadogan said he would not be attending the meeting, for fear it would lead to "confusion", and exacerbate community tensions about long-term plan rates rises of 15%-25% during the next three years.

Yesterday, Mr Cadogan issued a statement reiterating that position, after he said members of the public had approached him believing the ratepayers meeting was being run by the council.

In his statement, he said the wellbeing of councillors, staff and public attending the meeting was of concern.

The council’s attendance would also be redundant as councillors could not yet speak about the long-term plan or rates until a formal audit of consultation documents was completed.

"[We are in] a hold mode until we get confirmation from [the] audit to go ahead to embrace our public in the consultation phase, which includes, as we always do, a series of ‘soapbox’ meetings throughout the district along with the opportunity for the public to provide written and verbal submissions.

"I think you will appreciate the dilemma we presently face with Mr Phil Barrett calling a public meeting for this week ... The attendees will have not had the opportunity to be informed before the meeting through the consultation document.

"The council has no control on proceedings at this public meeting, and we do not believe we can protect the wellbeing of staff, councillors, or the general public.

"The long-term plan is the most important task for any councillor during their three-year tenure. We have, along with yourselves, a responsibility to act appropriately and do our utmost to ensure that proceedings are conducted with respect and trust in a safe, dignified and honest environment."

While he acknowledged councillors could be nervous about the reception they might receive at the meeting, the group’s intentions were positive and constructive, Mr Barrett said.

"This is not a council-bashing meeting, but an opportunity to find a way forward. [Projected rates] are one hell of a mess, but we won’t be putting up with any misbehaviour at the meeting.

"This is a starting block for people to rally together, and I feel it will be an opportunity lost for council to hear some of the very valid concerns from the people they represent, if they decide not to attend."

Mr Barrett said he had been heartened by the response to the meeting.

"If council choose not to attend tomorrow, we’ll collate those questions for people, and put them to council for a response via formal channels."

He said the group planned further meetings and other activities to keep the spotlight on rates locally.

Clutha Concerned Citizens ratepayers meeting, South Otago Town & Country Club, Balclutha, 7pm, tomorrow.