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Crown Law Asked To Investigate Minister’s Decision

Media Release

(FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE)

Ombudsmen And Crown Law Asked To Investigate Minister’s Decision

WELLINGTON, 30 January 2012

Council Watch has formally requested the investigation of Local Government Minister Nick Smith’s appointment of a Crown Observer to Christchurch City Council.

The Minister’s office had arranged for Sir Kerry Marshall MBE to take up an observation role in the weeks leading up to a meeting with the Chief Executive and councillors of Christchurch City Council.

Council Watch Local Government Engagement Advisor, Jim Candiliotis, has formally asked the Office of the Ombudsmen to investigate the advice provided to the Minister. He says Council Watch has also requested the Solicitor General to review the appointment.

“Local government is constituted separate from central government under an Act of Parliament for a reason,” says Mr Candiliotis, “When the Local Government Act was drafted our lawmakers saw fit to give the Minister four options if intervention was necessary in local government affairs. These powers are outlined in the Local Government Act and are accompanied by clear requirements to follow if used.

“The appointment of a ‘Crown Observer’ is not derived from the Act and we believe it is unconstitutional, unlawful or at the very least a blatant interference in the governance of a city.

“To date the Minister’s office has not provided a satisfactory explanation for taking such a course of action.”

The Minister has borrowed from a little-known provision in the Education Act 1989. Under S.195C of that Act the Minister of Education may appoint a Crown Observer to the council of a Tertiary Institution. It does not provide for such an appointment to a local body, nor does it allow any other for any other Minister to appoint a Crown Observer.

Mr Candiliotis says the move begs the question why the Minister is involving himself in the Council in the first place.

“Anyone who works with Councils understands there are tensions at the Councillor level – that is the nature of democracy. When it comes to misbehaviour, arguments and public spats the people we elect to Parliament provide a much greater spectacle than those we elect to councils. So why has the Minister gone to all this trouble?

“How would the taxpayers of New Zealand feel if Barack Obama appointed the American Ambassador to sit in on Cabinet meetings at the Beehive?

“The ratepayers of Christchurch no doubt are feeling a bit like that now.

Mr Candiliotis does not know when he’ll be getting a ruling from either the Ombudsmen or the Solicitor General, but he says the issue is too important to allow it to rest.

“There has been a lot of interference by central government in local authorities in the past three years,” he says, “And the subversion of democracy is a slippery slope. Our hope is the Minister takes a step back and allows the Council to sort its own problems out, or else uses the provisions allowed him under the Act.

“Just because you are elected to Parliament, it does not give you the right to bend the law.”

ENDS

References

1. Media release from Council Watch reacting to initial announcement: -

http://www.councilwatch.org.nz/articles/article_0112-a.htm

2. Media statement from Christchurch City Council(Tony Marryatt refunding pay rise): -

http://www.ccc.govt.nz/thecouncil/newsmedia/mediareleases/2012/201201272.aspx

3. Media release from Minister Smith’s office (“Crown Observer to assist ChCh City Council”): -

http://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/crown-observer-assist-chch-city-council

4. Crown Observer proposal: -

http://www.beehive.govt.nz/sites/all/files/Crown_Observer_Proposalpdf

5. Power to appoint a Crown Observer to the council of a tertiary institution: -

http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1989/0080/latest/DLM184194.html

6. Powers of the Minister under the LGA2002: -

http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2002/0084/73.0/DLM174076.html

http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2002/0084/73.0/DLM174077.html

http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2002/0084/73.0/DLM174078.html

http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2002/0084/73.0/DLM174079.html

ends

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