Gagging clause in gun

We're watching: Queenstown council meeting

Queenstown Lakes mayoral candidates are divided over a “potentially dangerous” council gagging order.

The council’s code of conduct, revised only last year, contains a clause forbidding elected members, including the mayor, from criticising council policies or decisions.

Massey University journalism lecturer Catherine Strong says Queenstown Lakes is one of just 15 councils in the country with such a gagging clause.

She calls it “disturbing and potentially dangerous” because it “flies in the face of open government”.

Mayoral candidate Al Angus, of Kinloch, doesn’t like the code, saying: “It should be abolished.”

Businessman Jim Boult says, if elected, he’d want the clause removed as soon as possible.

“I can’t see a compelling reason to keep it, I can’t see that it’s being adhered to at the present time and I believe in people being able to speak what’s on their mind.”

However, their rivals Lyal Cocks and John Mann don’t see what the fuss is about.

Cocks, the Wanaka-ite deputy mayor, says he supported the clause in the last code of conduct review, adding: “It seems to have worked OK.”

But he says if other elected members raised concerns “we can have a look at it”.

Mann, a long-standing councillor who didn’t stand last term, previously supported the code and says he’s interested someone might find it anti-democratic.

“I always thought it centred around collective responsibility once a decision had been made.”

Film director Roger Tompkins, meanwhile, thinks the code of conduct kerfuffle’s a sideshow.

He tells Mountain Scene people of the district need to hear more why mayoral candidates are standing, “not about tangential issues”.

Ironically, the gagging clause didn’t stop outgoing Queenstown mayor Vanessa van Uden criticising council staff earlier this month for holding up work on the eastern access road.

A similarly-worded council code of conduct has been controversial in Nelson.

The city’s residents’ association has sent letters to candidates across the country in the upcoming elections saying they’d be “unwise” to be shackled by the code.

Queenstown council spin doctor Michele Poole says the new mayor and councillors will be briefed on the code as part of their induction.

“They haven’t previously been required to sign the code; that’s not required.”

Meanwhile, several mayoral candidates have vowed to re-establish council committees.

Boult says: “I believe they’re an effective way of getting complex tasks achieved without involving the whole council.”

Mann says he’d have them back “by lunchtime”.

Tompkins, also a fan, wants to establish a “regional” committee, to harvest gripes from outlying ratepayer associations and community groups.

However, Angus says isn’t keen, saying councillors avoid work by pushing matters to committees, while Cocks says the old regime was bureaucratic and took too much staff time.