Outspoken Westland councillor reassessing future

By Brendon McMahon
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Outspoken Westland district councillor Anthea Keenan says she has yet to decide whether to stay or go.
Cr Keenan — the highest polling candidate in last year’s elections — said she wanted to stay at the council table in the wake of fallout from a leak of ‘confidential’ information.
“I’m trying to hold my head high, but it’s pretty hard,” she said.
However, earlier last week she stated in correspondence to the Guardian that a “reassessment must be made” whether she would continue to if the censure of confidential council information continued, and if she were to be “treated differently” from fellow councillors.
Having to request public information from the chief executive in writing following the breakdown of communication was also taxing, Cr Keenan said.
“Anything I do now, I have to write to the executive committee to get their permission. They’ve put their guard up. It’s unnecessary.”
Flow of information from the council administration was initially “all right” when she first became a councillor, but “the blocks” subsequently came off due to the chief executive being “under pressure,” Cr Keenan said.
The mere fact she was talking to the media would be perceived as breaching confidentiality, she said.
Asked if she could yet see a way to remain on the council, despite the restrictions placed on her, she replied: “I would hope so”.
However, being elected as a councillor had not fulfilled her prior expectations of the role, she said.
“I thought the elected members would oversee the management, but it’s not the way.”
The council was a governing body but councillors were also “out there” representing residents in the face of varied public expectations of the role and in this respect it had not fulfilled her expectation of advocacy.
“We should be able to do more, so that’s frustrating.”
However, she had received supportive feedback from constituents and continued to maintain that more transparency was needed because the council was a “public body” and not “private”.
Taking issues behind closed doors only perpetuated public “mistrust”.
Cr Keenan said she still believed she had been singled out over the e-mail leak and inaccurate statements about the confidentiality of that communication were part of that.
“I don’t want to be treated differently from others and it (the information) can be gained through the Official Information Act. The issues around it (the leak) need to be dealt with, not covered up.”
As a member of the Westland Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association, Cr Keenan said she had been consistent in what she had always believed in and stood up for transparency.
Being a councillor had not changed her position and in her view council staff should provide more substantial information within meeting agendas to enable councillors to make solid decisions and help inform the public.
The expectation from Local Government New Zealand was for council decisions to be formulated in such a way “that there can’t be any legal problems” and councillors needed all information on the table to do that, she said.