The Regional Council commissioned an independent review of its Hearings Committee, which was delivered in September 2009. It has languished unpublished since.

At the Council’s recent Environmental Management Committee meeting, member Morry Black asked for a copy of this report, among others, and was told by CEO Andrew Newman “certainly, they’re all in the public domain anyway.”

But now the HBRC is telling the DomPost that the report will be withheld from the public to “protect the privacy of natural persons.”

The problem is, the “natural persons” are Councillors! As elected officials, they have no right of privacy where their public performance is concerned. The Council, apparently believing their Hearings Committee is sick, called in a “doctor” to review the situation, paying him with ratepayer dollars for his diagnosis.

Now it appears the HBRC doesn’t like his evaluation. “Gold star” reports tend to get released, don’t they?!

The Hearings Committee is chaired by Councillor Christine Scott and includes Councillors von Dadelszen, McGregor and Remmerswaal.

The consents process which the Hearings Committee superintends is crucial to all of the constituencies served by the Regional Council. The report at hand discusses that process and the Councillors involved. That discussion and the recommendations flowing from it belong in the public domain. The need to ensure the integrity of the process and the accountability of the elected Councillors who run it easily trumps any mis-applied notion of privacy.

After all, we’re not talking about the Councillors’ sex lives or financial affairs here, we’re talking about their stewardship of a critical public function. The public has every right to judge them on an informed basis on their execution of this responsibility.

The Regional Council would be better off publishing the report itself, giving it whatever positive interpretation they can muster. Step up to the issue, Regional Council … one way or the other, this report will see the light of day.

Tom Belford

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7 Comments

  1. I'm on the hearings committee sometimes so I was surprised that I couldn't get a copy of the report.

  2. Ratepayers have a paramount right to have the report especially when it was instigated by salaried servants of the people and their concerns at the large amounts of public money and staff time involved in appeals instigated by members decisions some of which have been against officers advice.

    It is another example of member secrecy worthy of an Ombudsmans appeal if such is possible to have the information made available especially less than a week from candidate nominations.

    How can voters vote on member performance if denial of such information and secrecy are par for the course.

  3. This is disgraceful. I do hope the DomPost or even BayBuzz will be making a request under the Official Information Act for this report, which Hawke's Bay ratepayers paid for, and challenging any refusal from HBRC.

    Having it dragged out of them will generate far worse publicity for the HBRC than just 'ripping the band-aid off' and getting on with fixing the problems identified.

  4. Sadly HBRC has a history of doing far too much in secret. They tried to keep a report on their investment strategy (Holding Company) secret for over a year and it took the Ombudsman on reuqest from the Chamber of Commerce, over a year before all bar two paragraphs of the report were released. And that report showed that HBRC were contemplating other companies than what is currently in the public domain.

    In the case of a review of a Hearings Committe, a quasi judicial body who appear not to operate effectively, the HBRC should simply come clean and let the public also judge both what has happended and how HBRC has remedied the apparrent problems.

  5. HBRC councillors, in the main, appear ignorant, ineffectual and heavily reliant on the often poor advice of the council's long term employees. HBRC has mismanaged, ignored and/or opposed a number of important local issues recently giving little justification for its' actions. My understanding is that all Council information is public information and should be produced on request.Why do we put up with elected public servants continuously opposing their voters' wishes?

    A vote of no confidence in the HBRC would have been a worthwhile exercise although probably not necessary at this point due to the looming local body elections.

    Where are our true representatives?

  6. This looks like a cover up by Regional Councillors who are about to face an election for another term in a few months, and they don't want an unfavourable report on their job performance released to the public, or even released to a fellow member of the Hearings Committee.

    How can the public judge their performance if we cannot see the report? This is something the public ratepayers paid for.

    The report is obviously critical of the Hearings Committee members, otherwise it would have been released as the CEO Andrew Newman intimated when he previously said "it was already in the public domain".

    The Regional Council has given the Dom Post no alternative except to request it under the Official Information Act.

    This is not a good look for our elected public officials to be seen as so blatently protective of an adverse report on own their job performance.

  7. As Liz Remmerswall is a first time Councillor on the Hearings Committee I hope her reputation as a staunch advocate for the environment isn't damaged by association.

    Liz has consistently challenged water allocation processes, and the direction taken by the Committee. She was also the prime mover in demanding scrutiny of the Holding Company proposal.

    Of the others: they should know: time's up.

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