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Just weeks into its existence, a war of words has broken out between a new ratepayers association and the Clutha District Council.
The Clutha Residents and Ratepayers Association announced its formation to media only a fortnight ago, after becoming incorporated on February 3.
Association chairman John Fenby told the Otago Daily Times on February 9 the group had formed in the hope of eliciting greater accountability from the council, following recent public controversy around projects including waste water infrastructure and the Balclutha War Memorial Hall rebuild.
During a council meeting last Thursday, Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan said he had contacted Mr Fenby by email following the announcement of the association’s formation, and invited the group to meet.
However, Mr Cadogan told councillors he was surprised when Mr Fenby declined the offer.
"I was very surprised to receive a pretty blunt refusal. I also note there are no [association] representatives here in the public forum today.
"It’s all very well taking cheap shots at council, and sometimes you have to take that on the chin, but it would be nice if people had the courage of their convictions to front up and discuss their concerns."
Responding on Monday to Mr Cadogan’s comments, Mr Fenby said the group had intended no slight by its refusal to meet.
The group had earlier expressed a wish to "be heard" by the council, and that still stood, he said.
"Given the wheels of bureaucracy don’t seem to turn too fast, I’m surprised the council expects us to be ready to go right away.
"We’ve only been going a couple of weeks, and are still seeking further members and establishing what’s of greatest concern to local people, so we can represent them properly."
He said public interest in contributing to the association’s activities was growing following recent media exposure, and he hoped the group could feed back to the council during long-term planning in April.
"We’re just not ready for a meeting yet, but at that point it may be appropriate."
In response, Mr Cadogan said he remained surprised Mr Fenby did not want to meet sooner, but left his invitation open.
"Having accused us of not being transparent, I find it very surprising they wouldn’t want to speak to us face to face, to find out where we’re going, and our reasoning behind that.
"Frankly, councillors don’t deserve the flak they’re picking up right now, and we’re keen to get the message out of all the great positives going on out there.
"We’ll meet the association whenever they want."