Editorial - Get with it, councillors

20:16, Apr 11 2012

Hamilton City Councillors yesterday staggered for almost two hours through an issue which should have been simple.

The debate followed articles in this newspaper, and others nationally, weighing up whether local body politicians, like MPs, should disclose business and property interests to ensure transparency.

Deputy Mayor Gordon Chesterman, through his angry reactions, has made himself the poster boy for the status quo. He appears blinkered to the fact that a public register would prevent the need for him to get so het up over information that is, ironically, already largely a matter of public record. Councillors' interests in property, its value, company directorships and shares and home addresses can be found. A register would improve the public's ability to scrutinise them.

Councillor Chesterman seemed astonished his voting on the rating review was even raised. He has stakes in more than $2 million of CBD property. More than 80 per cent of residential ratepayers were to pay more under the proposal he backed. CBD property owners' rates were to drop by up to $10,000. Council's pitch for the discount said it would promote better returns for landlords and investors. To the average person, that isn't a good look.

Yesterday, Mr Chesterman's response to the scrutiny was to spray accusations around the chamber: Councillor Ewan Wilson should declare his convictions (he already had); the process was being driven by the Waikato Times, "not from this chamber where it rightly belongs".

The Government has been seeking views on mandatory public registers for almost half a year, other councils, such as Wellington and Tauranga, have chosen to be leaders on this issue, rather than waiting to be forced by law; and this matter is being debated nationally, and far more ably, than this council has shown itself capable of.

It seems our city councillors prefer to reach agreement in the comfort of far less public workshops. Their wailing over the lack of information was astonishing. They knew what was coming. Why had they not prepared by researching the issue and the various registers already in place? That's debate; that's democracy. It seems they prefer to be spoon-fed their opinions via staff rather than think for themselves.