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‘Undemocratic strong-arming’: Ayling critical of exclusion

After a controversial start to Long-Term Plan [LTP] proceedings, Carterton councillors will meet again today to resume deliberations.

Last week, councillor Grace Ayling was excluded from LTP hearings and deliberations due to a perceived conflict of interest after she submitted to the council’s plan criticising proposed spending on cycle trails and the events centre.

It was then revealed that the average proposed rates increase would be 17.5 per cent, not 15.09 per cent as originally proposed.

At an extraordinary meeting that kicked off the saga last week, a majority of councillors voted for submissions to be heard and for the LTP to be deliberated on by the Hearings Committee.

Councillors voted for all elected members to be appointed to the committee, which is chaired by councillor Robyn Cherry-Campbell.

When Cherry-Campbell began the meeting, she called for conflicts of interest.

Ayling declared a conflict of interest regarding her husband’s submission but did not declare a conflict for her own submission.

Cherry-Campbell said there was a “real danger” because Ayling’s submission “may make people think she is not going to listen to or consider all relevant information before she contributes to the decisions — this is clear predetermination”.

She then excluded Ayling from participating in the process as an elected member. When Ayling spoke to her submission later that day, she said councillors each “come to this table with our own set of core beliefs, with values that help guide us in our deliberations and discussions”.

“It is for these core beliefs, not in spite of them, that residents vote us in.

“I was elected to cut costs; I do not have a conflict of interest; I have a mandate.”

Ayling told fellow elected members it was “undemocratic” to be thrown out “without a council vote, and unable to hear my ratepayers concerns and to raise the questions I was elected to ask”.

“As an elected representative we are expected to have an open mind, we are not required to have an empty one.”

The next day, Ayling was invited back to the committee for deliberations following advice from Local Government New Zealand [LGNZ].

LGNZ, which represents councils, said Ayling could participate in deliberations except on matters about the cycle trail and events centre that she mentioned in her submission.

Ayling raised concerns several times that other councillors with declared conflicts of interest were not excluded from debate on issues pertaining to their conflicts.

Ayling told the Times-Age that her submission to the LTP had “resulted in a bit of panic inside the council but huge support from ratepayers who have flooded my phone”.

“The day after the chair of the hearings committee unilaterally excluded me from participating in the hearings committee submissions and deliberations, I was sheepishly invited back in.

“Regrettably, I’m still waiting for acknowledgement of the mistake and an apology.”

Ayling said accusations of predetermination and bias are “weak arguments to exclude me from speaking out on wasteful spending” and added she would not be seeking legal action “as I don’t want ratepayers having
to fork out for legal fees”.

She said her exclusion from the LTP process is “an example of undemocratic strong-arming”.

“While I was ultimately vindicated, their actions meant I missed voting on the two core items council sought public feedback on.

“Most importantly I was out of the room while they discussed the fact that the average 15.09 per cent rates increase, which was consulted on, was in fact incorrect and had now increased further to 17.5 per cent — this potentially jeopardising the legality of our entire LTP.”

A Carterton District Council spokesperson said the council is seeking legal advice on the rates increase that was consulted on.

An update on the LTP will be included in the Risk and Assurance Committee meeting agenda scheduled for 8.30am today.

Deliberations will follow after.

-NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

1 COMMENT

  1. Our way or the highway? Typical undemocratic councils 🙄 run by CEOS and MANAGERS that are not elected by rate payers but by councilors in it for money and make a name for themselves. What happened to decent honest councilors? 😕 how times have changed.

Comments are closed.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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