Monday, July 15, 2024

Auditor-General finds Masterton councillors had no financial interest in aerodrome decision

The Auditor-General has found that Masterton District Mayor, Lyn Patterson and Councillor Tina Nixon had no financial interest in the decision to adopt a redevelopment master plan for Hood Aerodrome.

The Office was asked by a member of the public to look into potential issues with the councillors voting on the plan after concerns were raised that the pair should not have participated in discussions and voting on the aerodrome masterplan, which effectively gave the green light to a major infrastructure project at Hood Aerodrome.

The Office said it understood how the appearance of a financial interest could arise, with Councillor Nixon’s partner working as the part-time manager of the Council-owned Hood Aerodrome.

Mayor Patterson’s husband and Councillor Nixon’s partner each lease a hangar site at Hood Aerodrome.

“Each owns the buildings on their leased sites, and uses the buildings to store recreational aircraft. Councillor Nixon’s partner’s hangar has an apartment attached, which he sometimes rents out for short-term stays,” the Office said.

Masterton District Mayor, Lyn Patterson

“A councillor is deemed by the Act to have a financial interest in a decision if their spouse or partner has a direct or indirect financial interest in the decision as an owner of an interest in real or personal property, as an owner of a business, or as a party to a contract with the local authority. A potential financial interest is not enough for the purposes of the Act. Based on previous case law, the test under the Act is whether the councillor, or their spouse or partner, has a reasonable expectation of financial gain or loss as a result of the particular decision. A reasonable expectation of financial gain or loss requires a reasonable degree of certainty about whether, how, and when the councillor (or their spouse or partner) will be affected financially,” it said.

“We are satisfied that Councillor Nixon’s partner has no financial interest through his employment because his pay is not linked to the Masterplan or any potential increase in activity at the aerodrome. An employment relationship, where a person receives a fixed level of remuneration, does not, on its own, give rise to a financial interest under the Act.

“We were told that neither hangar site will be directly improved by the project – they are not in the area to be developed.”

Masterton District Councillor, Tina Nixon.

The Auditor-General’s Office said it had considered how the development might affect:

  • rent charged by the Council to those leasing hangar sites;
  • rent charged by hangar site lessees to other people who use some of the hangar space for their own recreational aircraft;
  • the value of the hangar buildings; and
  • apartment bookings.

“In our view, these potential financial effects might be positive or negative, or might not happen at all. We consider them too remote, uncertain, or speculative to constitute a financial interest that would trigger the application of the non-participation rule in the Act.”

“We concluded that neither Mayor Patterson’s husband nor Councillor Nixon’s partner had a reasonable expectation of financial gain or loss as a result of the Council’s decision to approve the Hood Aerodrome Masterplan.”

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