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SOUTH WAIRARAPA DISTRICT COUNCIL: Deputy mayor takes reins

South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] has created a new committee structure, which some councillors say will save time and lead to more effective governance.

The new structure – called a ‘committee of the whole’ – will manage some, but not all, council business.

SWDC deputy-mayor Melissa Sadler-Futter was elected to chair the committee of the whole at an extraordinary council meeting on December 7.

A local government expert says the new structure effectively creates “a council within a council”.

Regular council meetings will continue to take place, chaired by the district’s mayor, Martin Connelly, fulfilling legislative requirements.

Under the changes, a committee will operate with a range of portfolios, mostly led by individual councillors.

A newly formed assurance, risk, and finance committee replaces the two former separate finance, and assurance and risk committees.

Former assistant auditor-general Bruce Robertson will be its independent chair. Robertson is also an independent member of audit and risk committees for other local authorities.

The move comes two months after the councillors unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in Connelly.

At the time, councillors cited a range of concerns about Connelly’s performance in the role.

Connelly declined to comment on the latest changes to the council for this article.

Councillors Alistair Plimmer and Rebecca Gray said council time and resources will be used more economically under the changes.

“By removing much of the current structure, we will be able to deal with the issues once, instead of having to go over the same material two or three times.”

Portfolio leads will work with the executive leadership team to develop reports and provide information to the wider council.

“The vote by councillors to have the deputy mayor lead the team as chair of the new committee reflects our deep appreciation for her leadership to date, under trying circumstances.”

Councillors supported the deputy mayor to lead the team for the best outcomes for the community, the pair said.

“We believe that under this structure and new leadership, the functionality of the council is now more robust, stable, and focused.” The new structure was designed with support from the SWDC executive leadership team and Local Government New Zealand [LGNZ].

An LGNZ spokesperson recently confirmed the council was working on their governance issues.

“Our priority is supporting the council in their journey so they’re able to meet the community’s needs.”

A SWDC spokesperson said the new structure creates a more predictable set of meetings and improves efficiency and leadership.

The new structure will ensure decisions reflect the council as a whole and avoid relitigating issues through committees.

A Department of Internal Affairs spokesperson confirmed it had been in touch with SWDC following the vote of no confidence.

“The council has identified a path to address the issues it is facing. We are comfortable with the path that they have outlined.”

Local government expert Andy Asquith, formerly of Massey University, is an industry fellow at the institute of public policy and governance at the University of Technology in Sydney.

“The committee of the whole is a council within a council,” he said.

“You have the same people around the table, but they are in markedly different roles.

“The committee of the whole is a committee where all the councillors are represented. The key is who is in the chair, and it’s not the mayor.”

Asquith does not think there is a risk of commissioners being appointed in South Wairarapa.

“That is not going to happen,” he said.

“The fact the council have been able to come together to form a committee of the whole shows that they can function.”

– NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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