By ROBYN BRISTOW
The move to chlorinate five Hurunui district water supplies has stirred up more than just community opposition.
The committee structure at the Hurunui District Council is in the spotlight following the decision by the Infrastructure committee to chlorinate the remaining supplies in the district.
A couple of other items also created animated debate at the recent council meeting – reviews of the Code of Conduct and the Significance and Engagement Policy – with some councillors questioning their right to oppose decisions made by committees without over stepping the boundaries.
A working party is now being set up to look at the committee structure to see what mechanisms were available to change the “triennial” decision which set them up in the first place while a working party will also consider the Significance and Engagement policy in an endeavour to clarify what is significant enough to be taken off a committee agenda and brought to full council.
Councillors, several of them new to the council table this term, expressed disappointment about not having voting rights on committees of which they were not members, but regularly attended.
Mayor Winton Dalley said if councillors had a vote on all committees, the committees would become a “defacto” council meeting.
“This committee system is common across the country.
“I can’t think of any council that doesn’t have it,” he said.
Cr Marie Black said she was reluctant to have another look at the committees.
“Membership and structure, I think, provides councillors with a much better insight because too many items on the council agendas could mean there was no time for a good discussion.
“It does provide the opportunity for councillors, who are non-members to attend and take part in discussions and debate at committee level,” said Cr Black.
Their input could impact on the final decision by committee members and “flip flopping around” could make it look like the council was not a “cohesive unit”.
Cr Geoff Shier believed the Amberley ward was not well represented on the committees, however Mr Dalley said when sitting around the council table councillors were there to represent the whole district.
He said non-voting members had influenced decisions in the past.
Cr Jason Fletcher who was comfortable with the committee structure and who has voiced his opposition in the North Canterbury News to the chlorination of the Hanmer Springs water supply, queried being able to voice his opinion as a community board member, which had a different view to the council over chlorination, during discussion on the Code of Conduct and the Significance and Engagement Policy.
He wanted clarification over why chlorination was not considered significant and dealt with by the full council giving everyone a voice over such an important matter, instead of only around the table at an Infrastructure committee meeting.
Significance meant the affect important decisions had on the community, he said.
“It’s the impact. We misjudged the affect, or the committee did, on how chlorination would impact on our community,” he said.
Cr Dick Davison said he would be uncomfortable if voices around the council table were restricted by policy, while Mr Dalley said the council was the final arbiter of what was significant or not.
An officers report which says it is not significant did not have to be accepted by councillors.
Crs Shier and Michael Ward agreed a review may help to give guidance on the interpretation of “significant” and expand on the “engagement” side of the policy.
Audrey van der Monde, manager of Public Services, says the reason the Significance and Engagement policy was being reviewed was a change to the law which had been made to speed up decision making.
“One dissatisfaction people often have with local authorities is that decision making is very slow.
“Before the act was amended it did hamstring local authorities. The idea was to give you the ability, knowledge and judgement to decide what is best for the community.
“It is written in a way to give guidance,” she says.
Ms van der Monde stressed that councillors could oppose decisions as long as it was clear it was a “personal view and they were not implying they were representing other members”.