A Tauranga City Council commissioner insists he will act in the best interests of the city when it comes to Three Waters reform.
His comments come after a local lobbying group called for him to step aside from any reform amid claims of impartiality issues.
Council will consider and approve a response to the initial Three Waters feedback request to the Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta at next Monday’s Council meeting.
The Government asked for feedback from local government regarding plans to transfer management of New Zealand’s three water services - drinking water, wastewater and stormwater - from the 67 local councils to four regional entities before the end of September. Councils have not yet been asked to commit to any reform programme
The plans have received pushback from some members of the community, especially as the current Commission appointed to Council were done so by Minister Mahuta.
Lobbying group the Tauranga Ratepayers Alliance, whose steering group contains several previously elected Councillors, believe this represents a potential conflict of interest – especially in the case of Stephen Selwood.
They suggest he has long advocated water amalgamation and is already in agreement with Mahuta on the issue. They believe Selwood should abstain from any vote related to the issue.
“If you have a potential conflict of interest, you stand aside,” says TRA spokesman Philip Brown.
“That’s a principle of good governance.
“If Selwood won’t stand down, he should at least take the opportunity to publicly rule out accepting any future position on a new water entity.
“If Mr Selwood fails to step aside, he is opening up the Council, and ratepayers, to huge cost if the decision is challenged via judicial review. He has to come to these decisions without predetermination. Clearly he can’t.”
However, Selwood says he will only be acting in the best interest of the Council and the city they represent and would be mindful of any potential conflict of interest.
“All commissioners bring specialised knowledge and experience to the council table,” says Selwood.
“But it is a fundamental requirement of the governance role that we keep an open mind, listen to the views of others, consider the evidence and make informed decisions in the best interests of the city and the community.
“That’s exactly the process I am following on this and every other matter that comes before me.
“When the council is called upon to make a decision, if there was any possibility of a perceived conflict of interest, I would seek and take the advice of my fellow commissioners as to my involvement.”
The Commissioner also clarifies that, at this stage, Council has not yet been asked to make any decisions on Three Waters reform.
“The commissioners have actively sought and received feedback from the community and will be passing that on to the Government, along with the Council’s views and those of Te Rangapu Mana Whenua o Tauranga Moana,” he states.
Council’s report to Commissioners, to be presented on Monday does highlight several concerns over Three Waters reform. These include the clarity of messaging to the public, the ability for Council to influence the new regional entity, details on transfer of assets and debt and more.
Local Government New Zealand have also highlighted several areas of improvement before the model can be deliverable based on the feedback received in the discovery stage.
“We knew from the start that a centrally developed model was only going to work if it included on-the-ground governance and operational insights from councils,” says LGNZ president Stuart Crosby, himself the former Mayor of Tauranga.
Their key areas of concern include governance and accountability, local voice and prioritization, integration with the planning system, Rural Water Schemes: and iwi/Māori co-governance.
Crosby says it is now up to Government to respond to these concerns, but is pleased the sectors are is working in partnership.
“As expected, this period has been noisy, challenging and messy – and it has got us exactly where we need to be to take this forward,” he says.
“Given our new partnership, we look forward to seeing local and central government working collaboratively to address these issues, and ultimately put a model in front of the public that is fit for purpose in Aotearoa New Zealand.”