Councillor resigns in frustration

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A Waimate district councillor has resigned from his post, citing frustration about council processes and a lack of engagement with the rural community.

Stuart Thomson’s sudden resignation came last week after the Waimate District Council’s meeting on February 5.

A by-election will now be held to fill the vacant position, with nominations set to open on February 16. If more than one nomination is received, the election will be conducted by postal voting on May 12.

At the council’s meeting last Tuesday Mr Thomson, who was a councillor for the Pareora-Otaio-Makikihi ward, said the “final straw” came when councillors were given a short period of time to read and approve a contract for Waimate Stadium during a public-excluded session.

“All of the councillors were given a copy of the contract. We got given 10 minutes to read a contract that will potentially connect the council with potentially $11 million of debt. The maximum time we were given was half an hour . . . that’s nonsense. The final straw was to say the lawyers had looked at it and found nothing amiss.”

It had been confirmed by the council the total cost to ratepayers for the Waimate Stadium project would be $3.8 million. However, Mr Thomson said that did not take the whole process into account.

“That’s not quite true because what they will do is borrow $3.8 million at an interest rate of 7% over 40 years. That works out to around $11.3 million and I don’t think that’s being totally honest with the public.”

He added that no indication had been given how much of the $950,000 sum to be pledged by a community group established last year had been raised. At its meeting on February 3, the council decided to underwrite the cost.

Mr Thomson said he was concerned no feasibility study had been carried out to get an idea of the stadium’s running costs and potential usage.

As well as concerns about processes around the stadium project, he felt there was little significance placed on issues affecting the rural community, particularly around infrastructure such as roading.

“The emphasis from the council has moved away from the rural areas of the district. Trying to get the simplest of things done in the rural sector is impossible.

“The general feeling I have is that the council has been run to suit the personal agendas of some people in Waimate and not for the benefit of the district.”

While critical of council, Mr Thomson said it was “acting to the best of its ability”.

Waimate Mayor Craig Rowley said he was not happy to see Mr Thomson go.

“In relation to Stuart Thomson’s resignation from council, the statements that we have read in the paper are his personal views and these views are not shared by the majority of elected members. Council has a number of exciting projects on the horizon and looks forward to seeing them come to fruition. I look forward to working with the newly elected member at the conclusion of the by-election process.

“It is disappointing to see any councillor resign halfway through a term. Obviously this means the council will incur costs in relation to a by-election.

“At this stage the exact amount is unknown as it will depend on the number of nominations received and whether an election needs to occur.”

He said the council’s day-to-day business would not be affected by the resignation, but there would be additional work in relation to the by-election process.

“The council is committed to maintaining our focus and delivering the best for our district.”

By Daniel Birchfield