Councillors clash over committee

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Nelson city councillors have clashed again, this time over a decision by mayor Rachel Reese to split the community services committee in two.

The mayor announced the establishment of a new sports and recreation committee at last Thursday’s full council meeting as a late item – meaning it was the first time that most of the councillors had heard of the change.

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Councillor Pete Rainey.

Councillor Pete Rainey has been chair of the community services committee since 2007 and sees the move as a demotion, as it will take responsibility for sport and recreation away from his committee.

He says he was only told about the new committee last Tuesday in a meeting between himself, Rachel and deputy mayor Paul Matheson, who will chair the new sport committee.

Pete says he walked out of the meeting.

“It was the first I’d heard of it – I had absolutely no idea it was coming,” says Pete, who called the move to split the committee as just “petty politics playing out”.

“This just suggests how the city is being run – all this behind the doors carry-on,” he says.

“I was under the impression that this mayor wanted to operate in a transparent way. I don’t think it’s transparent. It’s frustrating having everything pulled out from under you when you’ve done so much hard work for the past nine years.”

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Mayor Rachel Reese.

Rachel says feedback from the community indicated that there is a growing desire for an additional focus on sport and recreation, including looking after Saxton Field, the marina strategy and the campground review.

The new committee is intended to “mirror” the current community services committee. Membership will stay the same for both and the committees will they will sit on the same day.

Rachel says it’s disappointing that Pete is taking the change personally. She says her decision to form the new committee is not a reflection on his performance, but a result of a very large portfolio that is “time hungry” and requires a high level of engagement with the community.

“Yes, it’s a late way to have the conversation, but we’ve got an annual plan to get out,” she says.

“I understand that councillors develop a strong attachment to their areas and I’ve communicated with him to say how much I’ve valued him but one person cannot take leadership for all of these areas,” she says. “I was quite relaxed about councillors having a few more weeks before they look at the committee membership and gave them a choice of accepting the late paper or not.”

Paul says it’s an area that has been “crying out for more interaction” for some time. “We need to be proactive and this is a huge chance for this area to expand, but it’s a big job and I only hope that I can complement the work that Pete is doing,” he says.

But other councillors also expressed frustration at the way the decision was sprung on them, resulting in a 7–6 vote not to receive the report as a late item on the council’s agenda at Thursday’s meeting.

Luke Acland said he had “never received a late item this late before,” with Matt Lawrey saying that the lack of consultation with councillors had caused him some “unease.”

Mike Ward also voted to defer it, suggested that the move would be “potentially divisive”.

Pete suggested that he will fight the move. “We do have the power to overturn the decision but won’t comment on that any further, but it’s not over yet.”

The community services committee is responsible for community investment funding, the arts festival transition, the re-opening of the Trafalgar Centre and strategic planning in relation to heritage facilities.