Council steers clear of Whanau Centre stoush

Last updated 10:30 19/02/2013

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Controversial changes at the Porirua Whanau Centre will not be investigated by Porirua City Council, it was decided last week.

Despite a 600-signature petition presented to the council in December, seeking an investigation into changes to the service's governance, trust deed and name - from Fanau Centre - councillors unanimously agreed it was outside their scope.

However, chief executive Gary Simpson will attempt to bring two parties - who both claim governance over the Whanau Centre - together to resolve the dispute.

The Whanau Centre is a family support service that provides information and advocacy, a childcare centre, counselling and holiday programmes.

Deputy mayor Liz Kelly, who also manages the Whanau Centre, said a legal challenge could be mounted if the council pursued an investigation, before leaving the room due to her conflict of interest.

Councillor Litea Ah Hoi said the petition should not be ignored and it was the council's responsibility to protect community assets.

She was concerned ownership of the Whanau Centre building was in the hands of two people - Ms Kelly and Whanau Centre Trust chairman Mike Fermanis - "and that's really sad".

When Ms Kelly, who had returned to the chamber, objected to Ms Ah Hoi's comments, mayor Nick Leggett told her, "You are not involved, so shut your mouth".

He said the crux of the dispute was "people wanting control in the Creek community, and it comes down to money".

The building was an important asset and needed to be operated in a transparent way, he said.

Ms Kelly was also chided by her former western ward offsider Ken Douglas.

"It's well-known that I worked closely with Liz for some time but she has lost my respect and has denigrated the role of deputy mayor," Mr Douglas said.

Before the committee meeting began, Lepeti Tea, chairperson of the Fanau Centre Trust Board, established in opposition to the current governance structure of the Whanau Centre, urged the city's leaders to investigate.

"The Pacific community are well-known for not participating in the democratic process . . . you need to help those that have come to you."

Another delegation, comprising original founding members of the centre, told council its name was originally meant to be spelt with a Wh not an F, in deference to local iwi Ngati Toa.

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