Regional council still effective - Southgate

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 05:00 04/06/2014
paula southgate
FAIRFAX NZ
Paula Southgate.

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Despite appearances, the elected members of the Waikato Regional Council are working extremely well as a team.

That's the word from the organisation's chairwoman, Paula Southgate, after three regional councillors recently made headlines for reasons they would likely not have intended.

Last month former chairman Peter Buckley got called to a meeting with Southgate after he failed to declare a local government consultancy business he established on the council's register of interests.

Then Hugh Vercoe was issued with a formal warning from the council for taking water on his Tauhei property without consent. He is also under being investigated by council staff over alleged modifications to a dam on his 728-hectare property.

And yesterday the Waikato Times revealed Clyde Graf was asked to explain an apparent conflict of interest after he posted a video on YouTube that featured dead cattle, allegedly killed after ingesting the 1080 possum poison on a King Country farm.

In light of those issues, the Times canvassed the councillors for their views on whether the council was functioning as it should. While many, including Buckley and Vercoe were unable to respond, Southgate was among those who did. She was adamant her colleagues were working as an extremely effective team.

"Hand on heart, I believe we are working very well together. This year the council's annual plan was worked through and accepted unanimously - the first time that has happened in about eight or nine years.

"We have had some very productive workshops on the long term plan and our strategic direction. If you were a fly on the wall at those discussions I'm sure you would get a very favourable impression.

"Of course, some councillors have an abundance of passion and drive, particularly when it comes to certain issues. I have no problem with that as long as we can behave respectfully to each other."

Buckley had declared his business soon after their discussions, she said. She was unable to talk about Vercoe's dam situation because it was still under investigation. And she had also had a "very productive" conversation with Graf yesterday morning.

"I have had a discussion with the council about conflicts of interest and our code of conduct. Councillors are voted in by their communities on various mandates and they need to be accountable to those communities - but they also need to be accountable to their council as well."

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Graf himself thought that six months after the local body elections the councillors were working well as a group.

"This council is making good progress . . . I think the staff are responding to the community on various issues that need to be looked at, and I am getting some quite positive feedback. I think this council is starting to get the respect of this community, rather than its ire."

Cr Theresa Stark had a similar view.

"We are still finding our feet. All the councillors have differing motives, but this is definitely one of the better, more proactive councils I have been on ... we are able to get things done.

Cr Stuart Husband was even more enthusiastic.

"I think it's going great, it's fantastic. I don't think there has been any major issues at all. Having said that, I've been overseas for a little while, so I don't think I am the best person to pass judgement."

- Waikato Times

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