Invercargill ratepayers' advocate group to hold council accountable

The first meeting to establish an Invercargill Ratepayers' Advocacy group was held on Monday.
AMBER-LEIGH WOOLF/FAIRFAX NZ

The first meeting to establish an Invercargill Ratepayers' Advocacy group was held on Monday.

A voice for Invercargill ratepayers is being instigated through the creation of a ratepayers' advocacy group. 

At the first meeting, held on Monday, attendees said ratepayers needed a group to watch the Invercargill City Council. 

The meeting, led by Invercargill resident Robert Wilkinson, was attended by about 15 people. 

Within five minutes, the discussion turned heated with concerns about councillors holding directorships, council spending and the proposed $500,000 Chinese Garden. 

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This month, Wilkinson announced he was starting an association because he believed there was no accountability for city council decisions anymore.

Invercargill has not had a ratepayers' association for five years.

At the meeting, Wilkinson said he needed support as he had never done anything like start an advocacy group. 

"Something had to be done, or we'll get the same old, same old everyday." 

Wilkinson said some of council's expenditures were "astronomical", particularly the plan for a $500,000 Chinese Garden. 

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"Why the fascination with all this Chinese stuff?" he said. 

The discussion quickly became taken over by individuals' concerns. 

Directors pay, and the conflict of a councillor being on a director of a council-controlled organisation, was first on the table. 

Those in attendance expressed interest in the recent announcement the directorship policy of Holdco would be reviewed this year. 

Rodney Tribe said when it came to speaking out about council issues, and attending meetings, some councillors would listen, some would not. 

"If you go along [to meetings] as yourself ... sometimes you get classed as negative, or overly negative." 

Tribe said to be fair, the council did have some people around the table now who were "not silly". 

"On the last council, ratepayers had very little say," he said.

"They would take the opinion of the staff over what the ratepayers would say." 

Tribe said many of the council's big decisions were made in public excluded parts of the meeting. 

Finding what had happened in the discussion was difficult to decipher in the council's agendas, he said. 

"Again, it's about transparency." 

Tribe, who campaigned in last year's local body election, said he was interested to see how the new council would go. 

He said there were many interesting discussions going on in workshops, rather than in the council's committee meetings. 

The direction of the new city council would be made clear when the councillors came to finalise the annual plan, he said. 

Attendee Nobby Clark said when the public realised that the group was lobbying, they would pay attention. 

The group needed fresh ideas and to present an alternative viewpoint to the media, who were frequently receiving just council information, he said. 

His concern was it appeared to be the council staff leading the decisions and leading council workshops, not councillors. 

"That's the agenda that came up at the last election, was that it's wrong, and councillors represent ratepayers."

"You go to a meeting and you've got all these heads of departments ... you get thrown a whole lot of information around that bamboozles bloody everybody.

"Then they're out the door waving a document saying 'we've done the consultation, look, this is what the ratepayers want'." 

The group decided to hold a monthly meeting. 

Those in attendance discussed if they would form a lobby group or a formal association, and decided on a lobby or advocacy group.

The name the Invercargill Ratepayer Advocacy Group was suggested, but was not yet official.  

Clark said at the next meeting, they could look at what major strategies they wanted. 

 - Stuff

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