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Heading off a conflict of interest

by 16 Sep 2007Local0 comments

Warm Winds of Change

A Good Question: In a letter to the editor, Cluny Macpherson sought to encourage the secretary to spell out how he would avoid conflict of interest situations between his responsibilities to Friends of the Mahurangi and Rodney District Council, if he was successful in being elected. Warm Winds of Change Cluny and La’avasa Macpherson, Auckland University Press

My first action was to seek advice.

I was considering standing for Rodney District Council, and sought the counsel of Graham Nielson who was my supervisor when I was employed by the council to computer-model Helensville’s water reticulation—the good old days when the council did its core business without legions of consultants. Graham, a mechanical engineer with genius IQ and a photographic memory, is extremely well-versed in the Local Government Act, and I had long-since learned to seek the best advice possible before jumping to my own conclusions!

In short, I needed Graham’s advice as to whether my role with Friends of the Mahurangi could, potentially, rob the Mahurangi of a critical vote. The short answer:

No, it wouldn’t.

It is generally only where there is the potential for financial gain for the councillor that a legal conflict of interest arises, but the rule is to always declare any interest before discussion begins.

Regional councillor Bill Burrill did this, by declaring he was a Friends of the Mahurangi member, when I was presenting to the long-term plan process. Mr Burrill’s declaration almost certainly enhanced our organisation’s standing, and the hearing it received. He also very kindly thought to ask the question, holding up a copy of the Mahurangi Bulletin:

How is it that a community organisation can produce such professional-looking publications?

I was able to respond by saying that the Mahurangi has some very good and supportive friends, and most live not in the catchment, but in the balance of the region, specifically, Auckland—it never hurts to indicate an appreciation for the regional perspective!

Since then, I have received confirmation from a number of experienced and capable councillors including Christine Rose. These people all stressed that committee administrators are well trained in helping councillors avoid situations potentially compromising to themselves or the council. The councillor, if in doubt, needs only to remember to ask.

Ultimately, the single most crucial requirement is to build robust, healthy working relationships, and through that, trust with the councillors. That way, elected or not, I don’t need to rely on the dodgy old ‘you scratch my back’ system…

…to cobble together support for a worthy Mahurangi initiative.

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