Editorial: Silence of the piper
OPINION: One could wonder what on earth is going on in at the Waimate District Council.
The council has been in the headlines lately over its ongoing battle with local businessman Keith Williams. The legal action has so far cost an estimated $220,000 in legal fees and costs awarded to Mr Williams. For a small local authority, that's a significant sum of money.
And now, the council is in the headlines again over how it plans to provide information about nominations for this year's local body elections.
Traditionally, the Herald has made arrangements with the three district councils to be provided with completed nominations as they come in. There is public interest in the name of the person nominated, and the names of those who have made the nomination. And a local body election embodies principles of democracy and freedom of information. The regular release of the names of those nominated for positions around the council tables generates interest and encourages others to think about standing.
This year, however, Waimate outsourced its electoral processing to electionz.com, which initially told us that sending copies of nomination forms to our newspaper would be illegal. Then, on being told there was nothing in the legislation that specifically precluded that, returning officer Anthony Morton retracted that statement, instead saying it wasn't considered good practice, so wouldn't happen.
We were told there was nothing to stop the Herald looking at the nomination forms at the Waimate council offices, but copies would not be provided until nominations closed on August 16.
Inquiries of Internal Affairs and the Electoral Commission failed to find any support for that stance, and both the Timaru and Mackenzie district councils have agreed to provide us with their nomination forms as they are processed.
So, let's recap. For years, nominations have been provided to local media as they are processed. There appears to be no record of that causing a problem. After all, it is a public process; people are putting their names forward for public office. The other two returning officers in South Canterbury are happy to continue with the accepted practice. Common sense is sitting in the corner, weeping softly.
Not weeping softly is former Waimate mayor David Owen, who launched a stinging attack on council management, saying he is incensed by the decisions that are being made, and the lack of communication with ratepayers.
It may be that the Waimate council says it's up to electionz.com as to how this matter is handled.
But it is the piper who calls the tune, and the piper has yet to be heard.
- © Fairfax NZ News