Part 4: Our comments and views on the handling of Cr Sieling’s interest in the lease

How the Thames-Coromandel District Council managed leasing arrangements for Council land in Whitianga.

It is important that any conflicts of interest are identified and managed appropriately, to ensure that fairness, transparency, and objectivity are maintained.

We note that Cr Sieling has a pecuniary interest in any Council or Community Board decisions about whether to proceed with the proposed development of a multi-sports park project, and about the selection of the site, because he leases a block of land that is one of the potential sites.

We consider that Cr Sieling’s actions in declaring an interest and refraining from participating in discussions about the matter, were prudent.

Our guidance for members of local authorities about the law on conflicts of interest states that “having declared a pecuniary interest and left the formal confines of the meeting, you are entitled, as a private citizen, and consistent with the rights of any member of the public, to address comments to the meeting from that area of the room where the public is able to be present.”

We also consider that in these situations it is prudent for a Councillor to discuss the matter with the chairperson of the Committee/Council before the meeting. The Chairperson and Councillor could then discuss mitigation options.

Cr Sieling told us that he had a brief discussion with the Chairperson of the Service Delivery Committee before the meeting on 14 May 2008, seeking confirmation that declaring a conflict of interest and going through the public forum was the proper option for him.

After this discussion and after considering our published guidance, Cr Sieling chose to speak at the public forum part of the Service Delivery Committee meeting.

During our inquiry, we considered the reasonableness of the administrative process followed by the Council and Cr Sieling for distributing Council agenda papers. The Council’s administration systems did not adequately support the management of conflicts of interest, because Council staff did not consider whether to withhold agenda papers about the Sherriff Block from Cr Sieling. In this particular case, the Council’s distributing of agenda papers made little practical difference because Cr Sieling, as lessee, already had the information concerned. In our view, however, the Council’s procedures for distributing agenda papers should require staff to consider whether any Councillor has a conflict of interest in the matters to be discussed.

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