Bad Look for Otago Regional Council

Media Comment
ODT article council membership

Late last year, this was one of the more concerning turns for the Otago Regional Council, in a term of many twists and turns. (Link to article.) A Councillor had resigned. Had they resigned a month or so earlier, a process for replacement would have been automatic. After that it falls to the discretion and integrity of the Council as to whether they fill the vacancy.

The Otago Regional Council is comprised of Constituencies with 6 members from Dunedin and 6 from the other three mostly rural Constituencies. It is a delicate balance between Dunedin and the hinterland; and between urban and rural – with the proviso that Queestown is looking more urban by the day. They had a choice; fill the vacancy and maintain the democratic balance, or leave the seat vacant for 30% of the entire 3-year term of the Council and unsettle the composition of the Council. There was no money to be saved by not appointing a replacement; the law required that a vacant salary was redistributed across all Councillors.

The Council chose to leave the seat vacant, by 7 – 4. Two on the Council representing the Dunedin Constituency voted in favour of reducing the balance set up for Dunedin, thus disadvantaging Dunedin’s interests. Had they supported the appointment, the status quo would have been maintained 6 – 5. Instead they helped create a very bad look for the Council; and dividing up the money looked even more worse.

They said they had no choice but to take the extra thousands of dollars. But they did have a choice. Has they appointed a replacement to maintain the status quo, they would not have had to worry about their $6,000 bonus. Some said they’d donate the bonus to charity and maybe some did and maybe some didn’t. It’s unlikely there is any accounting for this windfall.

Credit to Bryan Scott for proposing the vacancy be filled, and to Michael Deaker, Alexa Forbes and Gretchen Robertson for supporting that. As to the others, it’d be good to know their motivation for causing another stain on the Council’s reputation.

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