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Should they have voted?

Kieran McAnulty, Alex Beijen, Grant Robertson, Lyn Patterson and Ron Mark at the announcement of Hood Aerodrome’s $10 million funding package last year. PHOTOS/FILE

Complaints to AG allege conflict of interest
Complaints made to Auditor General’s office over alleged conflict of interest in aerodrome master plan decision.

A complaint has been made to the Office of the Auditor-General [OAG] alleging Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson and councillor Tina Nixon voted on a council decision despite a conflict of interest.

The complaint relates to their potential conflict of interest in voting to approve the Hood Aerodrome Master Plan in August.

Tina Nixon.

Nixon’s partner is the manager of Hood Aerodrome, and Patterson’s husband leases the land for a hangar he owns onsite – he has done so since 1989.

Both elected members have welcomed preliminary inquiries from the OAG and await the outcome.

But Nixon says the complaint is part of an “orchestrated campaign” to force her off council.

She said she was happy to help with any inquiries by the OAG “and will request that it is dealt with in a timely manner”.

“However, the timing of these allegations is interesting,” she said.

“Recently myself and some members of my family have come under attack because of my decision to support the new town hall.

“These are cowardly actions. I believe there’s an orchestrated campaign at play to shut me up and to ultimately force me off council.”

At the August 4 council meeting, the original motion to approve the Hood Aerodrome Master Plan was lost.

It came after heated discussions by councillors about negative community feedback on the plan.

Lyn Patterson.

Five councillors, including Patterson and Nixon, voted for the plan’s approval; six voted against.

An amendment was then made to approve the master plan but to also have further engagement with key stakeholders, and this won the support of nine councillors, including Patterson and Nixon.

Councillor Tim Nelson abstained from the vote, and councillor Chris Peterson voted against.

Minutes from the meeting showed Nixon declared a conflict of interest “in relation to the agenda item on the Hood Aerodrome Master Plan”. It is also declared on the council’s elected member register of interests.

Patterson did not declare any conflict of interest at the start of the meeting, but the hangar her husband leases is listed on the council’s elected member register of interests.

Both Nixon and Patterson took part in discussions about the agenda item and voted.

Masterton District Council’s Code of Conduct states that: “members will not participate in any council discussion or vote on any matter in which they have a pecuniary [financial] interest, other than an interest in common with the general public”.

“Failure to observe the requirements of the Local Authorities [Members’ Interests] Act 1968 could potentially invalidate the decision made, or the action taken, by council”, the council’s code said.

“Failure to observe these requirements could also leave the member open to prosecution.

“In the event of a conviction, members can be removed from office.”

According to the Local Authorities [Members’ Interests] Act 1968, if a councillor’s partner manages a company that has a pecuniary interest in a matter before council, the councillor also “shall be deemed to have a pecuniary interest in the matter”.

Any decisions on the matter would be made by the Auditor-General, and only the Auditor-General can institute necessary proceedings against a person for an offence under the act.

The Office of the Auditor General confirmed it had “received correspondence about an alleged potential conflict of interest relating to the Hood Aerodrome Master Plan. As per our process, we cannot give details on any work while it is under way.”

Nixon issued a public statement on the matter and said she had been “completely open with council in all my dealings and declared at every opportunity any potential conflicts”.

She is on record asking whether she could vote on the issue at the August 4 meeting.

“Can I vote on this issue? I have no material interest in this,” she said.

In response to Nixon’s question at the meeting, Patterson had said she was in a similar situation because her husband leased land for a hangar at Hood Aerodrome.

“He is not affected [by this decision] in any way shape, or form,” Patterson said.

“His hangar is not part of this development. I am still going to vote.”

In Nixon’s public statement about the OAG complaint, she said she had always been “brave and true around the decisions I make and stand by all my decisions to date”.

She also said she would not be “silenced by any attack from any individuals or groups”.

“I’m happy to discuss any issues of concern with any member of the community at any time.

Patterson’s public statement on Tuesday was brief.

“The Office of the Auditor General has advised it has received a complaint regarding a potential conflict of interest relating to myself and councillor Nixon at the August 4 council meeting,” she said.

“Both councillor Nixon and myself welcome the preliminary enquiries from the OAG and await the outcome.”

Development of the Hood Aerodrome Master Plan came after the announcement in 2020 by Finance Minister Grant Robertson of funding for Hood Aerodrome as part of the government’s package to kick-start economies post covid-19.

The funding provided $10 million for infrastructure upgrades at the aerodrome.

If the master plan was not approved at that meeting, the government funding could have been jeopardised.

The upgrade project has a budget of $17 million and includes work to widen and extend the runway.

Hood Aerodrome is the responsibility of Masterton District Council and the operations at the aerodrome are managed by an aerodrome manager employed by the council.

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