Public oppose council shake-up

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 16/05/2012
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LATEST: Mayor Aldo Miccio's shock move to demote three councillors has been opposed by the public.

Yesterday the Nelson Mail ran an unofficial poll asking readers: Do you agree with Aldo Miccio's decision to demote three councillors from key roles to ensure the council runs more smoothly?

By 8am today the majority of votes disagreed with the mayor's decision to dump councillors Paul Matheson, Ian Barker and Rachel Reese in a council shake-up.

There were about 500 votes and 75.2 per cent disagreed with the mayor's decision and 17.1 per cent supporting it, while 7.7 per cent didn't know.

However, this morning Mr Miccio said the decision for the restructure was an internal collective decision of council, after an 18 mth review.

"It's a decision we have made to best carry out our functions as elected members,'' he said.

The negative public reaction follows yesterday's blackmail allegations by city councillor Eric Davy who accused Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio, after being threatened with the loss of a senior position if he failed to support the newly arranged council.

Mr Miccio denying the accusation, but Mr Davy said he stood by the claim after Tuesday's council shake-up.

Mr Davy told councillors, on Wednesday, he had received several calls from the mayor in which he was told if he did not support the move he would lose his role as infrastructure co-portfolio holder.

He said that amounted to blackmail.

Mr Miccio said the phone call to Mr Davy was to advise him that if he did not believe in the changes he needed to make a decision about whether he wanted to be included.

"I apologise if you got that impression. It was not my intention to blackmail you," Mr Miccio said.

A majority of councillors yesterday voted in favour of a four-part recommendation to change portfolio holder responsibilities and councillor appointments. The recommendation was nearly stalled at the start by a challenge over the remuneration process, and the tight timeframe in which a decision would have to be made around the associated shift in councillor salaries. Mr Davy was among several councillors to push the mayor to come clean on the reasons for the change that has placed less experienced councillors in demanding roles, including the removal of Ms Reese from policy and planning in which she has professional expertise.

He said the process had been rushed, disrespectful and personalised.

Mr Matheson reminded Mr Miccio that a mayor inherits councillors and does not employ them.

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Mr Miccio insisted it had nothing to do with personalities or performance. The change was needed to make the council run more smoothly and offer an opportunity for the newer councillors to "grow their experience".

Mr Davy said proof it was personal lay in the claim that improvement in the council's performance was needed, but Mr Miccio admitted there was nothing wrong with the job done by the three councillors sidelined.

Ms Reese, Mr Matheson and Mr Barker have been among the more outspoken and have openly challenged council processes over the past year, particularly the way in which the council moved last year to introduce a Maori ward which prompted a citizens' initiated poll for a referendum.

'POSITION UNDER THREAT'

Councillor Ruth Copeland, who now shares the governance portfolio with Derek Shaw, said change was needed in order to create greater transparency of council process.

She said it was time the council started looking at the issues "not based on our incredible intellect" but from some of the more "feminine attributes" as guardians of the community.

"I'm cognisant of the pain involved here, but breakthroughs come after a period of crisis. I know I sound emotional, but that's because I am.

"I believe that what we will find after this is freshness."

Deputy Mayor Ali Boswijk said communication around the issue could have been better, but it was symptomatic of the council at present. She supported the new flattened structure and said everyone was there for the right reasons, but the recent negativity around the council had been very destabilising.

Some councillors expressed concern that the matter had not been discussed at a formal council meeting prior to yesterday. Ms Reese said she was made aware of the mayor's proposed changes by email a few minutes before the media release was sent out under embargo on Monday.

She said yesterday there was "no real rationale" behind such a massive change and no explanation to her personally.

Mr Miccio said it was discussed at a workshop when it became clear what the preferred structure of the new team was. Some councillors, including Mr Shaw and Ms Reese, said the discussion took place after they had left the workshop. Mr Shaw used that as a reason to abstain from voting on the recommendation.

Councillor Gail Collingwood, who retains guardianship of the infrastructure portfolio, said that the workshop in which the matter was discussed was scheduled from 1pm to 5pm, and she was "sorry" some councillors had to leave by 3pm. She supported the changes.

Mr Barker queried the new appointments and whether they were part of Mr Miccio's plan to drive the council away from fiscal responsibil- ities towards a "green agenda". Mr Miccio said he understood why Mr Barker might adopt that view, but it wasn't his own view.

"I won't ask you to withdraw your comment but you might have cast doubt on councillor performance in terms of their financial prudence," Mr Miccio said.

Councillor Mike Ward said the first half of the council's term had been a "mess", brought about by the demands of the Rugby World Cup, amalgamation and the December flood.

While the current scenario was a "most unhappy experience" for him, the change was fair.

- The Nelson Mail

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