Mayor cops flak for agreement

NAOMI ARNOLD
Last updated 13:00 12/12/2012

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Nelson city mayor Aldo Miccio has come under fire for signing a document declaring Nelson's relationship with a Chinese city - without the council's approval.

However, Mr Miccio was adamant that the memorandum of understanding he signed in September between Nelson and Yangjiang was in good faith and intended to enable the Nelson Regional Economic Development Agency to deliver on its role of exploring new economic opportunities.

When in China in September, Mr Miccio and EDA chief executive Bill Findlater met representatives of the port town Yangjiang, and Mr Miccio signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on behalf of Nelson.

However, it was the first councillors had heard of Yangjiang, and some of them were vocal in their disapproval at a boisterous meeting yesterday.

Councillor Rachel Reese called it "a serious error of judgment". She said the MoU was an international agreement and council procedures needed to be followed to ensure transparency and accountability.

"The mayor does not act unilaterally on behalf of NCC without the council. They are the most simple rules of being an elected member of this city."

She asked acting council chief executive Richard Johnson if any elected member of council had the authority to enter into an agreement on behalf of the council without a prior resolution.

"On the face of it, I would say no," Mr Johnson said.

Councillor Paul Matheson said Mr Miccio did not understand what he had done, or the weight that a mayoral signature bore in China.

"I am quite disturbed that you undertook to sign an MoU on behalf of this city without consulting with council first," he said. "You have got yourself into a bit of a mess with this one and we are all trying to find a solution to this for you.

"It was badly handled and should never have happened."

Councillor Gail Collingwood said the council was operating in "a big void", and would have appreciated knowing, for a start, where Yangjiang was.

"We have been asked to officially sanction something that we should have discussed prior to it happening. There needs to be protocols around this. We can't afford to get into an uncomfortable situation. I still have huge gaps in my information but I will support this because it is the face of Nelson," she said.

Councillor Ian Barker said it was a matter of having respect for councillors, existing sister city relationships, and for the ratepayers of Nelson. "Let's hope all Nelson businesses, regardless of who owns them, have opportunities to increase their trade with China."

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However, councillor Pete Rainey said he didn't see why it was such an issue. "It's a harmless document. I'm a bit embarrassed about the level of discussion that's going on for the last 40 minutes.

"This is about goodwill and friendship and developing relationships."

Mr Rainey was ordered to withdraw a comment that the disagreeing councillors were "mischief-making".

Councillor Ruth Copeland said she trusted Mr Findlater and Mr Miccio to act on behalf of the city as they saw fit.

"I commend the measures taken by the team that visited China and would like to come out in full support," she said.

Mr Miccio said he made a judgment call to sign it, so the EDA could then explore economic possibilities, which could then be brought to the councillors for discussion. He said the city was not committed to anything, and Yangjiang understood that it did not come into effect until the council ratified it.

"It's potentially a very positive outcome for the whole city," he said. "Based on the same information I 100 per cent would have signed it [if] I was in China again under the same circumstances."

He said he had brought back an opportunity and the council should all be proud of the work they did.

The majority of councillors thought the process Mr Miccio had followed was wrong, but did not want to harm steps to forge new connections in China, or for the city to lose face. They supported the recommendation with a slight amendment in that the MoU with Yangjiang be confirmed rather than ratified.

A second MoU, also signed in September with the Chinese county Longyou, will come back to the council with a further report from the EDA.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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