The resignation of Waipā councillor Elwyn Andree-Wiltens on Monday has left the council light on numbers as elected representatives debate several major issues.
The council was three elected members down this week with Andree-Wiltens’ sudden departure following The News’ exclusive reporting of her financial interest in a sand quarry operating illegally on the banks of the Waikato River.
Hazel Barnes has leave of absence and Grahame Webber misses meetings as a result of ongoing cancer treatment.
Starting next week, the council will look to set its rates for the year and find money to pay for several projects not identified in its Long Term Plan such as a Sports Hall of Fame at the Velodrome.
Plus, councillors must address the pressing issue of the district’s transport requirements including the issue of a third bridge over the Waikato River in Cambridge. Then there are the Three Waters reform, staff shortages, rampant inflation and housing pressures to deal with.
“It’s a busy time,” chief executive Garry Dyet told the council on Tuesday, and he must now pull together a recommendation on how to cover Andree-Wiltens’ positions on the council, Cambridge Community Board, Maungatautari Reserve Committee, Heritage Fund and the Waikato-Tainui Joint Management Agreement.
Andree-Wiltens, the Maungatautari ward councillor for nearly six years and a community board member before that, released a statement on Tuesday apologising to the council for her involvement in the unauthorised quarry.
“It has always been my intention to engage with the community by being respectful and taking into account their concerns. I have always intended to provide an environment of integrity and trust to the community. A space that people know they can come to voice their concern and know they will be listened to.”
The News reported last week Beacon Hill Contracting, the company behind the sand quarry, had applied for a retrospective resource consent to mine the operation. Elwyn Andree-Wiltens is an equal shareholder with husband Albert, son Mark and daughter-in-law Julia.
At the time mayor Jim Mylchreest refused to comment on whether he was considering suspending Andree-Wiltens or whether sand from the quarry was used in any district projects.
But on Friday, following pressure from deputy mayor Liz Stolwyk and other senior councillors, Mylchreest called for Andree-Wiltens’ resignation saying he was “really disappointed” in her and said he told her a higher standard was expected of elected politicians because of the perception of bias.
The resource consent application would not be fast tracked and would be processed by independent consultants and independent commissioners, all paid for by Beacon Hill Contracting, said Mylchreest.
All operations at the mine were suspended on April 13 after a Waipā enforcement officer visited the site to meet the Beacon Hill owners and their consultant.
By Sunday, Rhys Powell, the man who tipped off the Waikato Regional Council to the sand quarry’s existence, had lodged a Code of Conduct complaint with Waipā council saying he would take legal action if it did not act.
Dyet told Powell this week the council would “look into the wider issues relating to the matters” and would respond at the completion of the process.
Waikato Regional councillor Stu Kneebone said he knew little about the issue but had been assured by staff an investigation was ongoing into whether the quarry required a regional council consent to operate.
The resignation of councillor Elwyn Andree-Wiltens appeared an inevitability, but it is also a loss to the Maungatautari community and is nothing to celebrate.
It was the consequence of a story broken exclusively by The News on April 1, and the fact we continued as the only media prepared to follow up the issue and demand answers.
In short, it illustrates the value of a robust, privately owned community newspaper.
Despite our constant prompting, Waipā District Council took three weeks to illustrate it understood the seriousness of the issue, and the Waikato Regional Council also appears to have been slow on the pick up.
This is not the end of the matter. An audit must be carried out to determine where sand taken from the illegal quarry went.
Read: Exclusive – Waipa councillor resigns
Read: Exclusive – Councillor told: resign