Councillor cries a river as regional roles divided up

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 11:38 30/11/2013
paula southgate
FAIRFAX NZ
Paula Southgate.

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The new term of the Waikato Regional Council began with tears as councillors jockeyed for key roles on the regional body.

Councillors met this week to decide the makeup of the council's committees and subcommittees and elect chairs.

Thursday's meeting was the first real test for council chairwoman Paula Southgate as councillors manoeuvred for positions of influence.

Ms Southgate has said she wants to create a more collaborative culture among councillors and, for the most part, yesterday's selection process was an amicable affair.

Old divisions between Rates Control councillors and independents rarely surfaced as former rivals nominated each other for chair and deputy roles.

Councillor Bob Simcock was a big winner, edging councillor Theresa Stark for chair of the powerful strategy and policy committee.

Rates Control leader Jane Hennebry was another to secure a top role, getting the nod as chair of the finance committee.

In a surprise outcome, first-term councillor and anti-1080 activist Clyde Graf secured the chair of the environmental performance committee, shading long-serving councillor Lois Livingston who was elected deputy chair.

But the greatest heat was generated by discussion over the makeup of the council's Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change committee.

The joint committee includes five Waikato River iwi representatives and five councillors, and is tasked with making recommendations on the content of the Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change.

The Healthy Rivers project is a $2.4 millionmove to amend the Waikato Regional Plan to manage adverse effects from discharges to land and water in the Waikato and Waipa catchments.

After winning a seat on the committee, councillor Timoti Bramley promptly resigned to allow a Hamilton-based councillor to take his spot.

A tearful Mr Bramley, elected in the Nga Tai ki Uta constituency, said he had "so much love for that river" but believed the committee should have an "urban voice".

"I'm so passionate about that river and lake that I want to jump out of my seat. I feel so proud to be sitting here but I want what's best for the community," Mr Bramley said, wiping away tears.

Ms Livingston, absent from yesterday's meeting, was elected in Mr Bramley's place.

Responding to the show of emotion, councillor Alan Livingston said Mr Bramley's tenure was "one of the shortest on record" but the move ensured equitable representation for Hamilton residents.

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Meanwhile, councillor Hugh Vercoe was appointed council representative on the Waikato Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group, with councillor Stuart Husband acting as his alternative.

Mr Husband was also nominated co-chair of the integrated catchment management committee, sharing the role with councillor Stuart Kneebone.

A persistent issue during this year's local government election campaign was whether the regional council should continue to run Hamilton's public buses.

Ms Livingston and Mrs Hennebry will represent the council on the Hamilton public transport joint committee, with Ms Southgate wishing them "good luck".

"You'll be in for a very interesting ride with the buses," Ms Southgate said.

"May their tenure be short," Mr Vercoe chimed. aaron.leaman@waikatotimes.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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