Troubles at the Otago Regional Council are coming to a head:
Council chairwoman Marian Hobbs said yesterday that since New Zealand entered a Covid-19 lockdown on March 26 — and seven councillors called for a 12-month re-evaluation of the council’s policy and finances, including the withdrawal and suspension of plan changes in progress and a review of its Regional Policy Statement — the council had been divided.
“It has been war,” Ms Hobbs said yesterday, confirming she believed some councillors wanted her out as chairwoman at the council.
“If I sound angry, I am. And I’m really not speaking as a chair — I’m speaking as a human being. Because watch this space, love, I’m liable to lose my position as the chair,” she said. . .
The March 26 letter to Ms Hobbs was signed by Crs Michael Laws, Hilary Calvert, Carmen Hope, Gary Kelliher, Kevin Malcolm, Andrew Noone and Kate Wilson.
Several days later Ms Hobbs wrote to Environment Minister David Parker about issues arising from the letter.
When her communication was discovered through an Official Information Act request, what she wrote raised the ire of Federated Farmers, which responded. . .
I was worried when she was elected chair and my worries have increased since then.
She appears to be acting on behalf of the government rather than ratepayers, many of whom agree with the seven councillors who have called for a 12-month pause.
Federated Farmers’ national body took issue in a statement this week with the council’s consultation process, saying the “actions taken by [the regional council] over the lockdown period were at best an inept attempt to ‘tick off’ to the minister that they had sufficiently completed appropriate public consultation on its proposed plan changes”.
Federated Farmers Otago president Simon Davies expressed “real concern” with the content of the letter and said the organisation was “assessing our options”.
There was a lack of governance at the council at present, he said, which was problematic.
“It’s not the ‘staff’ giving direction or strategy, it’s the governance. And the governance needs to be strong about that, and at the same time that strategy needs to be Otago focused and driven — not other people’s,” he said. . .
The Council must carry out its statutory roles but councillors are elected to represent the people, not the government.
Cr Calvert yesterday said she was concerned that Ms Hobbs was substituting her interpretation of the views of the Government “for the views of our Otago ratepayers”.
“She is prepared to attempt to overthrow the representation of the people of Otago by asking whether the minister would consider putting in a commissioner if the vote doesn’t go her way.
“Those who elected us deserve better than that.”
Asked to comment on Ms Hobbs’ assertion there were councillors who wanted her out as chairwoman, Cr Calvert said the “crucial question” was how many councillors that was.
“At the end of the day, if you don’t retain the confidence of the majority of your fellow councillors, it’s time for somebody else to take a crack at being the chair.”
Some former MPs can make the transition to local body office and put partisan politics aside.
From what has been reported, Hobbs has not and it would be better for the council, and the region, if councilors succeed in replacing her.