Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick says she did not attend a public meeting addressing homelessness, disorder and crime because she would be “on the spot” and “under the pressure from the community” to answer aspects of government business.
Chadwick also says she went to a vigil for a friend that night.
The meeting, organised by Rotorua National MP Todd McClay, was held on Monday evening at Arawa Bowling Club and attended by about 350 people, some of whom asked where the mayor was.
McClay has confirmed he did not extend formal invitations to the mayor, councillors or government agencies.
Chadwick told RNZ’s Lately with Karen Hay on Tuesday night: “I didn’t go because I had phoned Todd [McClay] before and we both agreed that I would then be put on the spot and under the pressure from the community to answer aspects of, probably, government business, and that it was better that he led a meeting and then comes to me once he’s diluted down … the key messages from the meeting.”
In a statement to Local Democracy Reporting, via the council communications team on Thursday, Chadwick said she contacted McClay when she found out about the meeting and put in her apologies.
“That night I was at a vigil for a friend who had died and whose funeral I was unable to attend.”
She said she looked forward to meeting with McClay to discuss its outcomes and how it plugged into “what we are already doing”.
“We have been very aware of the community’s concerns relating to the use of motels for emergency accommodation and we share those concerns.
“As I have said previously, we do not want Rotorua becoming the dumping ground for New Zealand’s homeless and motels can absolutely not be a medium or long-term solution to our housing issues.”
She said the situation was “untenable”.
“We are especially concerned about the more than 380 children currently living in motels. These are not appropriate environments for children, regardless of where they come from.
“I continue to have very robust conversations with government agency heads, and with government ministers who have come back to us to say they support our desire to work with agencies on local solutions.
“What we need, however, is a directive to compel agencies to do so. The regional approach currently being used is not working for Rotorua and we will keep pushing to get the change we need to lift our district out of this crisis.”
McClay told Local Democracy Reporting the purpose of the meeting was for the public to talk about “what they were seeing and feeling” and he did not extend formal invitations to the mayor, councillors or government agencies.
“Steve phoned me and told me she wasn’t coming. I agreed it would be a very difficult meeting for her and the council because there was a lot of anger from the community, and it was probably a good idea she didn’t attend.”
He said the council or government agencies were aware of the issues and could have organised a public meeting at any time, but hadn’t.
His understanding was people felt like there was “a lot of talk” but the situation was getting worse.
“They want action, they want something done about it.
“Three councillors came to the meeting and good on them for showing up, I think it was appreciated.”
Those three councillors were Fisher Wang, Peter Bentley and Reynold Macpherson. Among them, Wang spoke to the meeting.
He said another meeting was likely on the cards but the next step was for Monday’s meeting to be transcribed and a steering group of community representatives established to help find solutions. He expected government agency representatives would be invited to the next meeting.
As McClay’s meeting was rescheduled from an earlier date, Local Democracy Reporting asked Chadwick if she had given her apologies for the originally scheduled meeting.
Chadwick confirmed she had.
“Todd and I did also discuss that if I were to attend, the meeting could well become focused on the mayor and/or the council rather than what he intended, which was to hear the community’s concerns.
“We agreed it was better he have his meeting, as intended, and we then meet to enable him to share and discuss what came out of it.”
She said she would consider attending a future meeting once she had met with McClay regarding Monday’s meeting.
Wang said he attended the meeting because he “wanted to hear directly from the people who had been affected, to be there and just listen to them”.
He said he “absolutely” felt under pressure.
“I think they should put pressure on us. I could feel the anger and the fear from the people in the community, especially Glenholme. I expected them to push as much as possible and hold us to account.”
He said there were “a lot of things happening in the background” and it could be frustrating for the community if they couldn’t see them yet because they were still in process.
He said the council’s community safety plan and its housing plan were among strategies to help solve the problems.
Local Democracy Reporting