Cromwell Community Board united in opposing council's power play

by Kim Bowden - Feb 08, 2024

The Cromwell Community Board has officially joined its voice to those opposing the manner in which Central Otago District Council chief executive Peter Kelly has gone about proposing changes to the decision making power of community boards in the district.

All seven members of the Cromwell board have signed their names to a statement delivered to the council's governance manager this morning.

Board chair Anna Harrison has also provided the statement to Crux, saying "the board thinks it is really important that the response is made public".

A Cromwell resident heading a rapidly-assembled, grass-roots protest against any change is calling the latest development a warning shot.

James Dicey says it is both "startling and gratifying" to see all Cromwell Community Board members, including the district's deputy mayor, Neil Gillespie, putting their names to the statement, and he thinks it is evidence of "strongly held views" on the matter.

In the statement, the community board members raise a number of concerns they have both about the process being followed by Mr Kelly and the proposed changes themselves.

In a bold move two weeks ago the chief executive, in the job since September, presented a paper to the district's four community boards briefly outlining his proposal to rein in their power, effectively limiting their ability to decide how proceeds from the sale of assets located in their respective wards be spent.

Exactly what is at stake here is unknown, with the council admitting it cannot quickly put a figure on wealth effectively assigned to each of the district's wards.

But Mr Kelly says it is a move proposed to better "align" council delegations with the Local Government Act, which outlines roles and rules for community boards across the country.

While two of the district's community boards straight away indicated their support for Mr Kelly's changes, the members of the Cromwell board opted to take the time offered to them to form a view on it.

In today's statement, they criticise this process, saying the three-week period they have been given to submit on the proposal is not long enough and suggesting it goes against the council's own rules for such a situation.

According to the council's Register of Delegations, if the council wishes to reduce the role of a community board it "must effectively consult with that board first".

In their statement today, the community board members claim "that requesting a submission in a very short time frame does not constitute effective consultation".

They want opportunity "to have questions answered and the ability for further information to be provided" to ensure they are "able to prepare a submission from an informed position", and say that hasn't been given to them.

They think this decision ultimately relates to the question of districtisation, and the merits or not of that, yet it has not been framed as such in the proposal by the chief executive, and that "is approaching the conversation the wrong way round".

Members of the board say they have been contacted by people within the Cromwell community, who have expressed concerns about that which the chief executive has set in motion.

Among the comments they are hearing are that the proposed changes are "an attempt to strip Cromwell of assets", are "being rushed to fund shortfalls and debt in the Long Term Plan process", and "do not acknowledge the history of Cromwell and the promises and assurances that were given to the community prior to the Clyde Dam building and as part of the amalgamation of councils/boroughs".

Locals are also concerned key projects underway in the town at the moment, notably the memorial hall replacement and the mall upgrade, could be at risk, community board members say.

"The Cromwell Community Board considers that it does not have enough information to allay the concerns of the community about the proposed changes and the impacts for assets that sit within the Cromwell Ward, proceeds from land sales or the completion of projects outlined in the 2021-2031 Long Term Plan process."

It doesn't mean 'the war is won'

Cromwell resident James Dicey, whose father Robin Dicey is a former member of the Cromwell Community Board, says the move today by the Cromwell Community Board is "a shot across the bows".

Along with others in the community concerned by the proposed delegation changes he has set up a protest movement coined STAG, or Stop The Asset Grab. 

Although Mr Dicey is welcoming such a strong, united push back from the community board to the chief executive's proposal he cautions that it "certainly does not mean the war is won".

Mr Dicey says he is lobbying members of the district's three other community boards, who had given their early approval to the proposal, and working on gathering names from among former Cromwell Community Board members and Cromwell Councillors to add to an open letter to the council.

"Everyone spoken to so far has added their name to the list."

Mr Kelly has said a conclusive vote at a full council meeting as soon as the end of the month could see the existing delegations gone, and the Cromwell ward is represented by just four of 12 seats around the district's decision-making table. 

But Mr Dicey says after a meeting with community members the chief executive has indicated to him he is willing to amend his original proposal to allow for more options and potential discussion.

It is now Mr Dicey's view that this should be the least that should happen, given the public position of the Cromwell Community Board.

"I suggest that the best outcome is to remove the option for removal of the delegated authority completely (from the February meeting) and only put two options - leave the status quo or include it with the Long Term Plan discussion. Continuing along the current path with one of the four community boards in effective rebellion appears futile."

Meanwhile, across the other end of the district, the Teviot Valley Community Board has decided at a meeting today it will be making a verbal submission on the proposal at the council's February meeting.

The full statement outlining the Cromwell Community Board's position can be viewed here

Read more:

Tensions increase as CEO, mayor double down on district's claim to Cromwell wealth

Cromwell anxious at possible stealth grab of sizeable assets by Alexandra


Crux reporter Kim Bowden talks on RNZ's Nine to Noon about the proposed power shift at the Central Otago District Council

Main image: A strong statement issued today by members of the Cromwell Community Board (back from left) Mary McConnell, Neil Gillespie, Cheryl Laws, Sarah Browne, (front from left) Anna Harrison and Bob Scott (absent Wally Sanford) after Central Otago District Council chief executive Peter Kelly suggests reining in the board's power.

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