Is council conduct code ‘deficient’?

A move to revitalise the Kaipara District Council Code of Conduct, which would effectively administer workplace rules for councillors, has been defeated with one councillor saying he is defending ‘freedom of speech and open debate’. 

With a 75 per cent vote required for approval, two councillors voted against a motion to upgrade the code, with one abstaining, effectively stalling the measure.

The Code of Conduct provides an explanation of the obligations on elected members under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987, and sets out a process for complaints against an elected member.

In proposing revisions to the code, KDC chief executive Peter Tynan said: ”The existence of an unenforceable code has the potential to impact negatively on the behaviour of elected members and reduce council’s standing with its communities.”

Mayor Jason Smith, confirmed there was an agenda item at the May 28 council meeting making the code of conduct workable “ by fixing flaws and gaps.

“There were problems we needed to fix to make it workable and I’m disappointed to say councillors voted against the measures. So the existing code is not workable and I can’t see when it can be revisited — it could be months and months.”

Councillors Julie Geange and Jonathon Larsen voted against the measure, while Cr Wade abstained.

“After what KDC has been through in recent years with commissioners, revolving CEOs and changing mayors the positive way forward is by unity as a group, and by an agreed vision,” Cr Wade told Lifestyler. “My reason for abstaining was because I wanted more information.” Cr Geange, having voted against revision, referred Lifestyler’s questions back to the mayor.

“As per the current code of conduct … the mayor is the first point of contact for the official view of the governing body on any issue,” she said.

Cr Larsen said that “the recent review of the Code of Conduct was not sanctioned by council. Support for such a review should have been sought from council before unnecessarily committing staff time and resources.  “The amended Code of Conduct aimed to allow the council or a committee of council to impose broad-reaching sanctions on other elected members, based on subjective judgments of what comprises appropriate behaviour. I don’t think that this would provide a fair and impartial process.

“I believe that this approach will compromise freedom of speech and open debate, and would lead to further clubbiness and division on council. I experienced this closed-door clubby culture in the old elected council when I tried to alert the public to the millions of dollars of unsanctioned expenditure on the Mangawhai sewage scheme. We all know what that culture led to.”

Local Government New Zealand, says it does not oversee the use of codes of conduct. “LGNZ does not form a view on whether specific Codes of Conduct are effective or not, nor do we make any judgement on any proposed changes” said communications adviser, Daniel Webster. 

“That is a matter for local decision. LGNZ provides a draft Code of Conduct to all councils, that councils can then amend for their local use.”

The status quo for the existing KDC Code of Conduct has been outlined in the chief executive’s words: ‘While the Code clearly and adequately sets out the standards and behaviours expected of elected members, omissions and inconsistencies raise questions as to whether it could actually be appropriately used to deal with a complaint.’ 


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