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Ombudsman says facility engagement was not flawed

 

An artist impression of Masterton’s civic facility. IMAGE/SUPPLIED

 

The Ombudsman has rejected complaints that Masterton District Council’s civic facility consultations were flawed and not compliant with the Local Government Act 2002.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier told the council yesterday that he considered its administration of the community consultation process “was neither contrary to law nor unreasonable”.

“I am satisfied that the council has engaged with the community for several years on the issue of whether to construct a new civic centre and its financing, including through public drop-in sessions, face-to-face engagements, workplace meetings, and both informal and formal consultation,” Boshier said.

“Attempts were made to reach groups that do not typically engage in civic discussion, relevant information was accessible, readily available and presented in a variety of formats, and the public were afforded a reasonable opportunity to present their views via a method of their choosing.

“Although there are some who are not satisfied with the community consultation and direction of subsequent decisions, this is not evidence that the council has acted unreasonably or failed to meet its obligations under the Local Government Act 2002.

“Often, the adequacy of consultation is conflated with outcomes. In my view, that is what has occurred here.”

Council chief executive David Hopman said he was “gratified” with the Ombudsman’s opinion.

“I am pleased that it was recognised that considerable efforts were made to reach people that do not typically engage with consultation of this kind. That was one of the goals of staff.”

Mayor Lyn Patterson also welcomed the response.

“There have been suggestions made that this process was flawed, and I am very pleased the Ombudsman has recognised the validity and integrity of the consultation process undertaken,” she said.

In June last year, councillors voted to progress the civic facility project with some external funding as part of the long-term plan by a slim majority [6-5].

Masterton resident Dr Amanda Lynn laid a complaint to the Ombudsman in June, and received written confirmation of a formal investigation on November 24.

Dr Lynn, who is the principal analyst at consultancy firm Mandolin Associates, said it was her opinion that the council’s consultation process was “flawed and that insufficient due diligence has been undertaken to support the most positive outcome for the people of Masterton – and the wider Wairarapa community”.

“At the time of consultation, there was little clarity over what was proposed, the true cost of the build and financing, and the real impacts on the economy.

“While I’m glad there were no issues found in general process in relation to the Local Government Act 2002 in this instance, we will all continue to hold council to account for what we see as railroading of the community through timing and application of the Act,” she said.

“The price and scope moved as predicted in the complaint, well away from that consulted on and is bringing the council back to the consultation table post-election.”

In May this year, a majority of elected members voted in favour of reviewing the civic facility project but continuing with complementary work.

Dr Lynn said the new mayor and the shape of council would determine the final outcome of the civic facility project.

“In these times, a focus on rational investment and targeting individual wellbeing by far supersedes the desires of elites to set new cultural agendas and don their posh frocks for parties in expensive venues,” she said.

Boshier said he had carefully considered the wide-ranging complaint and was confident his investigation had been conducted fairly and robustly. – NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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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