Councillor cries foul over pokie hopeful's shout
Christchurch city councillors who were hosted at a trotting club applying to install gaming machines acted inappropriately, a fellow councillor says.
The New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club was host to at least six councillors in the Presidents Dining Room at its Summer Cup event at Addington Raceway on Waitangi Day.
A guided tour, buffet meal and alcohol were provided.
The club's invitation said it was seeking "the positive support of council" as it sought an exemption to the council's gambling policy so it could apply for a venue licence.
The exemption would allow the raceway to apply to the Department of Internal Affairs for a licence for the gaming machines. The club wants to install 18 gaming machines for extra income.
Without the council's support, the club said, thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of economic benefits brought to the city by harness racing would be lost within five years.
The club's application was considered this month by the council's regulatory and planning committee, which deferred a decision until next month.
Councillors who attended were Claudia Reid, Bob Shearing, Gail Sheriff, David Cox, Yani Johanson and Deputy Mayor Norm Withers. Those who declined were Chrissie Williams, Mike Wall, Barry Corbett, Sue Wells and Mayor Bob Parker.
Helen Broughton, Ngaire Button and Sally Buck did not return calls yesterday.
Wells, who heads the regulatory committee, said it was "highly inappropriate" for councillors to have gone.
She was fuming at those who went because "while it may be technically OK, it doesn't look good".
There were better ways of sharing information that did not put councillors in a position where the public perceived they had been influenced, she said.
"I'm disappointed some councillors felt it was appropriate to attend. In the strongest possible terms, it was inappropriate to go."
Williams said the invitation was "blatant lobbying". Club chief executive Shane Gloury said the dinner was a chance to lobby councillors, but the club had been up-front by saying in the invitation it had applied to the council for a policy exemption.
"I believe there was full and frank disclosure ... It was a bit of a lobbying exercise, not a vote-buying exercise," he said. "If a councillor believed that such an invitation was going to compromise them or place them in a conflicting position, they had complete information from us and were free to decline the invitation."
Shearing said he saw the event as "purely a social function", while Johanson said the club had been up-front about its motives. He understood the concerns of some and was considering abstaining from the committee and council vote next month.
Reid said: "You can't buy me with a free meal." She went to find out more about the club and said the visit helped her decision-making.
Sheriff said she was not familiar with the club. "It did me good to see what they have there. What's the harm in that?"
Withers, who has raced horses for 40 years, said any potential for a conflict of interest "never entered my head".
Cox said it would take a lot more than a dinner at Addington to sway him.
Council general manager of regulation and democracy services Peter Mitchell told the committee he saw no potential for conflict of interest and it was up to individual councillors to make that call.