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Chamber of secrets

‘Stuffed-up’ process sees public, media left out

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An unnecessary tangle of secrecy has tied Masterton District Council in knots over its Long Term Plan.

The council was to have discussed and adopted the plan yesterday, but would first have to correct what staff have told Mayor Lyn Patterson was a “stuffed-up” hearings process.

The council received 339 submissions on its draft LTP, and heard from 66 submitters in person over three days at the end of May.

So far, so good.

But it then excluded the public, and media, from its deliberations on the submissions.

When challenged by the Times-Age at the time, Patterson said this was because there was an element of commercial sensitivity in some submissions.

By passing a formal resolution to discuss the submissions with “public excluded”, key changes to the LTP could not be included in the public agenda for yesterday’s meeting, and couldn’t be reported.

On Tuesday, the mayor said the issue had not arisen in the past because “no public wanted to attend”.

“We never had anybody saying ‘we want to attend this’,” she said.

“But because we formally went into public excluded, we can’t make it public until we take it out of public excluded at the meeting [yesterday].

“What has happened has highlighted that we need to improve that process.”

Neither Carterton nor South Wairarapa district councils exclude the public from LTP deliberations.

The sign-off of the LTP is normally a rubber-stamping exercise, and Patterson said there were “no biggies” in changes.

But at least one councillor, Brent Goodwin, is set to vote against approving the final plan.

That won’t stop the plan being approved but Goodwin said he intended moving a motion requiring a report to councillors on where extra staff hired in the past five years are working.

Chief executive Pim Borren has said staff numbers rose from 80 to 100 in the past five years, but Goodwin believes the increase is more like 73 to 100.

“It’s a massive increase.

“I want to know where all the staff have gone – it has never been explained.”

Goodwin says the council should have a strong focus on infrastructure – drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, and roading.

But he is suspicious that reported savings made from hiring extra staff, instead of using contractors, largely appeared to be in those areas.

“We’ve been told it’s resulted in savings and the savings are all pretty well tied to infrastructure – the three waters, and a bit of roading . . . but from what I can see, only two or three of the new staff have gone to infrastructure.”

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