Veronica Harrod reports from Levin the Horowhenua District Council’s chief executive, David Clapperton, may have acted unlawfully by authorising a press release referring to deputy mayor Wayne Bishop’s property development company Wayne Bishop Investments Limited as one of “the region’s biggest ratepayers.”
Cr Bishop is standing as a candidate for Waiopehu Ward for the fourth term.
The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) states a council that promotes, or is perceived to promote, the re-election prospects of a sitting member, “is unacceptable and possibly unlawful” in a guide called, ‘Good Practice for Managing Public Communications by Local Authorities.’
At the 11 September council meeting councillors voted in favour of delegating all “responsibilities, duties, and powers” to Mr Clapperton until the swearing in of the new Council.
The Office of the Auditor General defines the pre-election period as three months prior to the local body election on 12 October.
Councillors also directed Mr Clapperton to consult with, “the person elected to the position of Mayor” and, “only attend to those matters that cannot reasonably wait until the first meeting of the new Council.”
Mayor Feyen said Mr Clapperton has not consulted him.
The Council press release citing Wayne Bishop Investments Ltd was one of the region’s “biggest ratepayers” was published on 27 September in local community newspaper the Horowhenua Chronicle underneath a Council press release on development contributions – one of the biggest election issues.
Development contributions cancelled
Development contributions were cancelled in 2015, but most council’s collect development contributions from land and property developers for improvements to essential infrastructure from housing growth.
Essential infrastructure includes stormwater, water, waste water and community facilities.
The auditor general’s office says, “Local authorities must remain politically neutral throughout this period and ensure that ratepayer funds are not used to promote electioneering.”
Council’s press release on development contributions states, “The current planned Speldhurst development of some 500 homes will place no further demand on Council infrastructure than Kimberley Hospital did at peak operation so…no development contributions could be collected for Speldhurst development even if a policy is in place.”
Development on former Kimberley site
Speldhurst is being developed on the former Kimberley Hospital site by deputy mayor Wayne Bishop’s company Wayne Bishop Investments Limited.
Since 28 August Mr Clapperton has also authorised four full page advertisements in the Horowhenua Chroncile defying a recommendation that, “mass communications be suspended during a pre-election period.”
In a one-page ‘open letter’ advertisement on 18 September – beside his photo – Mr Clapperton said, “Unlike many growth councils, we have the infrastructure in place to both facilitate and cope with increasing populations.”
Yet Council’s pre-election report describes the district’s infrastructure as, “aged and ageing” and requiring, “significant investment.”
Public concern about Horowhenua’s infrastructure capability is also a big local election issue.