What an absolute shambles Mondays’ extraordinary meeting was, to deal with the WasteNet issue.
I presented a paper raising concerns and then sat and observed what I can only call a circus.
The issue that ICC faces is that Invercargill City Councillors were split (needing the Mayor to cast a mayoral vote as well as his original vote) on the original vote 3 weeks ago regarding whether or not to accept the preferred tenderer or to stay with Southland disability Enterprises (SdE) and it’s 82 workers who are at risk of losing their jobs.
To date, nearly 24,000 have signed online and hand petitions telling ICC to leave the contract with SdE.
So, these are my observations and thoughts:
- Southland District and Gore Council’s voted to accept the preferred tenderer. ICC voted against that preference (supporting SdE).
- Unfortunately, I’m advised that ICC is locked into this 3 Council WasteNet agreement with no ‘out clause’ unless the other 2 Councils allow that exit.
- The parties have agreed to give SdE a 12 month contract – my view is that that contract is nothing more than a ‘stay of execution’
- And gives the other 2 Councils time to manoeuvre ICC into an agreement for the preferred tenderer and avoids another messy tender process.
- If that is not the case, then surly they will close the tender. If my suspicion is correct, the tender will stay ‘live’ for the next 12 months.
- So, the 3 Councils now head into mediation to try to resolve their differences. It is unlikely that the other 2 Councils will concede.
- The next process is arbitration which will have a binding decision. That means ICC could have it’s vote over turned by that arbitration decision.
The latest meeting, in my view, was punctured by the following unhelpful behaviour:
- A mystery Councillor raised a concern with the ICC lawyer that Mayor Sir Tim had a conflict of interest and should not chair the latest meeting. This was a supported act of desperation in my view.
- They tried to imply that because Sir Tim had had a photo cut and paste previously onto a backdrop scene that was the Recycling Centre (for a promotion unrelated to this issue )and without his knowledge, that he was now conflicted. The Mayor was at Town Hall all day, yet this was raised just before the meeting and the ICC lawyer was present at the public meeting.
The Mayor refuted that claim, stated he had done nothing wrong, had no conflict of interest and continued to chair the meeting.
He then asked the Councillor group who had raised this issue. There was no reply so the mystery Councillor did not have the decency to stand up for their action. Talk about improved transparency.
And of surprise to me, Cr Karen Arnold was present and was an active participant at this meeting. I was staggered. At the key meeting 3 weeks ago, she left the meeting telling her colleagues that she was resigning from Council and most critically for those wanting the preferred tenderer and as an ICC delegate on WasteNet, she did not vote on the WasteNet recommendation. She was in the media in the following couple of days reinforcing she had resigned and stated why. Yet 3 weeks later she is back. It is my view that she defaulted in her duties at the meeting 3 weeks ago and should have abstained from any further participation. I challenged her on this point twice but got no response.
Cr Toni Biddle is a strong supporter, as I am, for SdE to retain the WasteNet contract regardless of possible financial and technological improvements in managing our waste product. At one stage, Cr Lloyd Esler stated to Cr Biddle “you are just a look at me – a goodie – you’re just electioneering”.
It is my observation that Cr Biddle is a ‘goodie’, a person that shows considerable passion and compassion of several issues when the debate gets to be tough going (including dog euthanisation, Council Directorships and the needs of those employed at the recycling plant) and we would be far better represented if we had more Councillors like her.
And finally, there was the tagging of Cr Alan Arnold. He is often quiet in his approach and waits until others have spoken. After listening to the Chief Executive give a report to Councillors about their legal obligation, Cr Alan Arnold sought to challenge why she was presenting points that seemed to him to be reinforcing an acceptance of the WasteNet preferred position as opposed to her, as their employee, advising them on how they could achieve the outcome ICC voted for 3 weeks ago.
He was cut short by a point of order by Cr Leslie Soper who challenged that he had no right to question staff and his tone was not right. The Mayor quite rightly ruled that tones can be tense when the debate is robust.
There were two matters of concern with this interjection.
Firstly, Cr Soper had already declared a conflict of interest at the meeting 3 weeks ago because she has a relative involved at SdE. So, why was she still participating? Seems to me that while she probably didn’t vote in the public excluded session, she was ‘having a penny both ways’ by being engaged during the open session.
And secondly, at no stage during that open session did the Mayor or any Councillor ask the Chief Executive to give them any guidance upon their obligations. The CE just took it upon herself to volunteer the information and in doing so, in my view, crossed the line of neutrality that I would expect from a senior staff member present at such a controversial meeting. Once she spoke, it was only fair, that Cr Alan Arnold had a right to challenge her.
It was interesting that following the objection by Cr Soper, that Cr Biddle then retorted that she had sought independent legal advice on their obligations under different legislation, suggesting there were other obligations that seemed not to have been included by the CE in her overview. Cr Karen Arnold, then tried to challenge that advice and demanded to know who gave it to Cr Biddle. Quite rightly, Cr Biddle told her it was none of her business and she was entitled to seek independent advice.
My crystal ball leaves me worried that SdE will be lost as our recycling provider within the next 12 months and those poor staff with disabilities will be left with the pipe dream of some Councillors of finding work elsewhere.
For the benefit of ratepayers, those who have in my view, stood resolute on their support of SdE are Sir Tim, Cr Biddle, Cr Abbott and Cr Alan Arnold (and probably the absent Cr Pottinger).
Finally, our ratepayers group will provide the ratepayers of Invercargill with a list of who we feel they should vote for prior to the October elections, based on our observations in the last 2.5 years and reversely, those who we do not recommend.
And for those who think I may be conflicted, I have always stated what I believe should be good governance of our city and I have also acknowledged that I will be standing for Council at the next election.
Invercargill Ratepayers Advocacy Group
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