Sparks fly as councillors debate Stanton
A solution to Nelson vagrant Lewis Stanton's long-running protest is still unclear.
A heated Nelson City Council meeting yesterday saw arguments over whether Stanton should have an exemption to camp in council parks, and one councillor accusing three others of breaching confidentiality over negotiating with the long-term protester. Councillors eventually agreed to let an amended recommendation lie for six weeks until Stanton is out of jail, allowing an opportunity to consult with him and potentially affected members of the public.
He has been protesting on the pavement outside the Farmers store in Trafalgar St for a year-and-a-half over a grievance with the council.
He has repeatedly broken bylaws by camping on council land and has two assault convictions after getting into altercations in Trafalgar St. Stanton is now in jail after being sentenced to two months' imprisonment for not doing any of the 195 hours of community work he was sentenced to by the court last year.
Sparks flew in the chamber yesterday over claims by councillor Rachel Reese that three of her colleagues, councillors Ruth Copeland, Mike Ward and Mayor Aldo Miccio, disclosed information to Stanton and another party that had been the subject of confidential council business.
Mrs Copeland's attempt to explain was stymied by Mr Miccio, who said councillors were not obliged to answer the question.
Mrs Copeland insisted she believed the question related to her prior discussions with Stanton.
Ms Reese questioned her colleagues' integrity, and was asked to withdraw the comment on the grounds council members were not to disrespect others.
She initially asked the councillors involved to speak up by asking if there were any elected members at the table during yesterday's policy and planning meeting who had met directly with Stanton without the knowledge of the council or council chief executive, and whether they had information on whether Stanton might agree or otherwise to a special permit that would allow him to camp on council land.
The staff recommendation was that the council should be "inclined" to issue a special permit with a list of conditions. The amendments moved by councillor Kate Fulton, who was recently appointed co-portfolio holder of policy and planning, following the demotion of Ms Reese from the position, is less restrictive and allows for consultation with Stanton and the public. Ms Reese said outside the meeting her decision to name the three involved was a last resort.
"The opportunity had been there to make the disclosure openly but my colleagues chose not to take it."
She told the Nelson Mail that private conversations about public-excluded business was a "sorry state of affairs", and disrupted the basic principles of how councils were meant to operate.
"To make such disclosure leads to a process where there is no transparency about decision-making and it's incredibly disrespectful to council colleagues and staff. From my point of view it undermines the system," Ms Reese said.
The council wants to ensure the possible terms and conditions of the permit are discussed with Stanton and with property owners neighbouring the reserves on which he may be able to stay for short periods overnight, including Branford Park; QEII Drive mounds (adjacent to Founders Path boundary); Guppy Park surrounds and Pioneers Park (St Vincent/Hastings street corner).
Ms Fulton understood "many members of the public" were concerned that Stanton continued to sit in the street day after day.
"It's really important we do the best we can as a council to find a way forward. As a community, we will be judged on how we treat others who may not quite fit in with the norm or who perhaps are slightly different."
Mr Ward said some people were bound to view the council as making special provision. But the alternative was that Stanton would continue to sit on the street and make his life and others people's lives miserable.
HOW THEY VOTED
City councillors voted on whether to let lie for a time the issue of whether the council should in principle issue protester Lewis Stanton a special permit allowing him to stay on council land, with conditions.
*Eric Davy abstained from voting and Ian Barker was not present at the meeting.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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