Community boards spend thousands on mediation

Photo: RNZ / Logan Church
Photo: RNZ / Logan Church
Christchurch ratepayers are forking out thousands of dollars to help mediate disputes for their community boards.

Four of the city's seven community boards spent $11,582 on mediation services, figures released to RNZ under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act show.

The remaining boards did not spend any money on mediation.

The mediation, carried out over the past four years, was done by external providers.

Massey University senior lecturer and local government expert Andy Asquith said the costs were a "cause for concern", and had never seen anything like it in his 15 years of studying local governance in New Zealand.

"It could well be that the way the Christchurch [governance] model is set up needs investigation," Dr Asquith said.

"And I think a deeper concern here is that the community boards, as with councils in general, there is no real qualifications that community board members or councillors need to have."

Dr Asquith said community boards play a critical role in local democracy.

"If you look at local democracy 101, community boards are the lowest common denominator and in that sense the most important," he said.

Dr Asquith said councils don't give enough emphasis to community boards to make sure they are properly resourced.

Christchurch city councillor Sam MacDonald was also critical of using ratepayer money on mediation.

During the last term, MacDonald led the Fendalton-Waimairi-Harewood Community Board, which was among those that did not spend money on mediation.

"I think the nature of our roles are that most people around community board tables are 'A' type personalities. So there will be in some instances conflict. But the reality is we need to lead by example, and resolve differences where we can at no cost to the ratepayer," he said.

The Halswell-Hornby-Riccarton Community Board spent the most, forking out $5579 on mediation. Of that, $3079 was spent in 2017 and $2500 in 2019.

Dr Asquith said the figures suggested Halswell-Hornby-Riccarton has had "long-standing" issues that needed resolving.

It was followed by the Coastal-Burwood and Linwood-Central-Heathcote community boards, which spent $5428 on a dispute that the city council said involved both boards.

The Papanui-Innes Community Board spent $575, while the other three boards - Fendalton-Waimairi-Harewood, Spreydon-Cashmere, and Banks Peninsula - spent none.

MacDonald said the Christchurch City Council needs to be careful about engaging external consultants.

However, he said sometimes mediation can be unavoidable.

"I think if we can't resolve them professionally, then maybe we do need to bring in people on the odd occasion, but I'll stress, the very odd occasion."

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