Councillor Guyton in the news :-)
Environment Southland councillor Robert Guyton has been shut down from speaking about a damning water quality report at a council meeting.
Councillors instead decided to speak about the issue at a closed workshop in which the public and media will not be invited.
Robert Guyton wanted to talk about a Ministry of Environment Report released on Thursday which says New Zealand's lakes and rivers are coming under increasing pressure for reasons including land use.
The report was tabled at an Environment Southland committee meeting and Guyton noted the "strident" media coverage it had received that day, including calls from some quarters for an immediate reduction in cow numbers.
However, Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips said the issue would be better spoken about in a council workshop, with Cr Lloyd McCallum agreeing.
Guyton was not happy.
"I am rather puzzled why we aren't allowed to speak about it now," he said.
"We seem to be burying it in a workshop. What's the purpose of this meeting," he asked.
Phillips said the report was tabled at the meeting as a "heads up" for councillors and the item was not on the agenda.
He said it was appropriate to have a "more considered" discussion about the issue at a later date.
Cr Ross Cockburn, the committee meeting chairman, also said it was more appropriate to have it in a workshop at a later date, but Guyton voiced his opposition.
After the meeting, Guyton said he believed the water quality report should have been spoken about by councillors in the public forum so the public knew where the councillors stood.
"To shove it into a workshop which is public excluded, I think is wrong."
"Southland people would like to know what their elected members are thinking on this issue," Guyton said.
"If they are only getting the sanitised version they shouldn't feel confident they are being well represented."
Many of the Environment Southland councillors were farmers "and it would be difficult for them to be critical in the same way I can", Guyton said.
Workshops were "good things", he said, but he believed they should be open to the media.
Democratic councils should be able to discuss matters in a free and open fashion, he said.
He did not believe Environment Southland was being purposely secretive by having its many workshops away from the public gaze, "but that's the result".
There had been pressure from some councillors in the past to open council workshops to the public but the majority of councillors had opposed it, he said.
Phillips, also speaking after the meeting, said he didn't have the "technical people" to discuss the report at the meeting.
"It was just a heads up [for councillors] and I think Robert had a slightly different view ... everyone else was comfortable with what I was saying."
Councillors could have continued discussing the issue if they wanted to, Phillips said.
Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell, also speaking after the meeting, said councillors had not read the national water quality report prior to the meeting so did not know its contents.
They needed the facts before having an intelligent debate on the issue in the public forum.
A workshop was ideal for councillors to get their heads around an issue and be free and frank with their views, "but there should also be a second step where we have a discussion in public", Horrell said.
He agreed that the public needed to know what councillors were thinking about.
In response to Guyton saying farmers around the council table would find it difficult to be critical on water quality issues, Horrell said all the councillors had sworn an oath to do their best for Southland and they knew they had to improve water quality for future generations.