Coun­cil bias com­plaint

Northern Outlook - - FRONT PAGE - EMMA DANGER­FIELD

The con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the chair of a Hu­runui Dis­trict Coun­cil de­bate over whether to pur­chase shares in the Hu­runui Wa­ter Pro­ject came to a head Thurs­day when his po­si­tion was chal­lenged.

Coun­cil­lor Dick Davison re­ceived a stay of ex­e­cu­tion from his re­main­ing fel­low coun­cil­lors around the ta­ble, in light of a for­mal com­plaint from a new­ly­formed group of con­cerned Hu­runui res­i­dents.

Na­dia Maxwell, chair of He Tan­gata, said the group had se­ri­ous con­cerns about the lack of trans­parency in the process.

With the mayor and deputy mayor out of all dis­cus­sions re­lat­ing to the HWP shares, as share­hold­ers them­selves, and a third coun­cil­lor re­cus­ing her­self over ties to the Amuri Ir­ri­ga­tion Com­pany, it was left up to coun­cil­lor Davison to chair meet­ings per­tain­ing to HWP, in­clud­ing re­cent sub­mis­sion hear­ings.

‘‘We strongly be­lieve Cr Davison is not the right per­son for the role of chair, and would like to see him re­moved as chair for all fu­ture de­lib­er­a­tions,’’ Maxwell said.

Maxwell said after at­tend­ing the public meet­ings, the group was ap­palled by Davison’s clear bias, which was ce­mented when he pro­moted ir­ri­ga­tion as hav­ing saved the dis­trict dur­ing a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view last month.

Davison has long been a sup­porter of ir­ri­ga­tion schemes, hav­ing been in­volved in the Amuri Ir­ri­ga­tion Com­pany as a share­holder for many years.

He also sits on the Cen­tral Plains Wa­ter Trust, es­tab­lished by the Christchurch City Coun­cil and the Sel­wyn Dis­trict Coun­cil to hold the re­source con­sents for the pro­posed ir­ri­ga­tion scheme, although he pointed out this was the com­mu­nity watch­dog and safe­guard to en­sure that the scheme com­plied with the con­sents which are held by the Trust, which was a com­pletely sep­a­rate en­tity.

The re­main­ing five coun­cil­lors ended up giv­ing Davison a vote of con­fi­dence, in part be­cause he had been up front about a po­ten­tial per­ceived con­flict of in­ter­est, and had no cur­rent in­volve­ment with AIC. He had sought ad­vice of coun­cil CEO Hamish Dob­bie at the time of his ap­point­ment to the po­si­tion, and had been ad­vised as he had no pe­cu­niary in­ter­est or on­go­ing con­nec­tion, he had no con­flict.

Maxwell said the He Tan­gata group was dis­ap­pointed so see Davison re­tain the chair. The dis­cus­sion ap­peared to fo­cus on his dis­clo­sure at the be­gin­ning of the process, rather than his com­mit­ment to keep an open mind through­out, she said.

The coun­cil is due to de­lib­er­ate on the sub­mis­sions on May 17, after which fur­ther in­for­ma­tion will be sought if re­quired, and a de­ci­sion made on whether to in­vest $500,000 of ratepay­ers’ money in the pri­vate HWP scheme. The coun­cil’s pro­posal is to pur­chase dry shares only, with the po­ten­tial op­tion to put more money in for wet shares in the fu­ture, sub­ject to the avail­abil­ity of wa­ter.

MIKE CREAN/STUFF

Hu­runui coun­cil­lor Dick Davison is be­ing ac­cused of bias in his role as chair of dis­cus­sions over the pur­chase of shares in the Hu­runui Wa­ter Pro­ject.

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