A Nelson city councillor is defending her conduct after being accused of “rorting the system” by teleconferencing into council meetings while actually being in India studying yoga.
Kate Fulton has come under fire for her decision to leave the country a few weeks into council business. All councillors receive a five-week holiday that only recently ended.
Fellow councillors did not know of Kate’s intentions until recently, when she left a workshop saying she was flying to India to study yoga.
At a Sport and Recreation committee meeting last week, chair Tim Skinner did not accept Kate’s apology for being absent from the meeting.
“From my perspective it was a bad precedent to set. I didn’t want it to be seen as a get out of jail free card.”
Councillors are able to use teleconferencing software to phone into council meetings if they are physically unable to attend. However, Tim says he believes the spirit of the convention means councillors should only use this if they are away at other meetings, or a special family holiday that had been booked in advance.
“Or if they had been in Golden Bay last week and couldn’t get back because of the storm,” he says.
“What Kate does outside council is her own business but when councillors aren’t attending meetings it is in the ratepayers’ business.”
If councillors miss four meetings without having their apologies accepted then they can be removed from council.
“Work things do come up and we can be flexible,” says Tim. “But usually we would expect councillors to take a leave of absence for this sort of thing. For me it’s taking the mick.
“I could go to Brazil to learn to kick a soccer ball or Oktoberfest to learn to get drunk and still tune into a council meeting a clip the ticket.”
Kate has come under fire for shirking her time at the council table before – last term missing several meetings as she was studying to be a midwife and then last year deciding to campaign to be West Coast Tasman’s Green Party candidate.
Kate replied from India saying engaging in activities outside of council in “no way diminishes” her commitment to my council duties.
“Greater knowledge enhances my effectiveness to contribute to the issues at hand and focus more intentionally on positive community wellbeing outcomes.”
Kate says that last year she sustained a head and spine injury and there has been significant unexpected stress in her life following a house fire in 2010.
“For health reasons and because my twin daughters have recently finished school, I felt it timely for myself to do some personal development and spend some time pursuing my lifelong love of yoga.”
At two other meetings last week Mayor Rachel Reese accepted Kate’s apology and allowed her to phone in from India, despite it being the middle of the night.
“Councillors have a right to attend meetings and a chairperson may give approval,” Rachel says.
Rachel says that in the Sport and Recreation committee’s case, she would have preferred that Tim let other councillors know that Kate was on the line from India, waiting to join.
“It would have been a courtesy to the committee.”
She says that she makes her decisions based on circumstances of each meeting and that Kate had made a valuable contribution to projects like the Long Term Plan and wanted her input.
However, asked if Kate should have taken a leave of absence Rachel says that it’s a judgement call for each councillor.
“But it is up to the individual to manage those processes.”
Deputy mayor Paul Matheson says the way Kate went about leaving the country “irked” him.
“Kate has a habit of going AWOL. It was the midwifery then the Green Party and then this. There is a procedure and it’s disappointing [the way she has handled it].”
Kate says the type of yoga she was studying was perfect for her conditions.
“It is also beneficial for those wanting to decrease the physiological impacts of stress and live with greater calmness, contentment and equanimity in their lives.”