Local Government Legal Teams Day 2020
On Friday 6 March, Christchurch City Council’s legal team hosted the Local Government Legal Teams Day with a staggering 65 in-house local government lawyers in attendance (and others on a waiting list). The event was held in the new community Tūranga Building in Cathedral Square. ILANZ provided a free registration to its annual Conference (now to be held 2021) with the lucky winner being Kathryn Candy from Whangarei District Council.
Local government in-house practice is very diverse with each Council having its own regional or local issues, organisational strengths and weaknesses. What is consistent for all is that local government legal teams are becoming a critical part of local government business. One hat does not fit all in this space! Local government legal teams are also at the forefront of advising and supporting their Councils with implementation of pending central government policy coming down the pipeline with water reforms and climate change adaptation.
Adela Kardos (Head of Legal, Christchurch City Council) opened the event with a warm welcome noting that Christchurch was back in business and hoping the event would cement new professional relationships among local government lawyers. Judith Cheyne, Ian Thomson and Brent Pizzey (Christchurch City Council) provided updates and insights with their involvement in water reforms and the likely flow and shape of things in the future. We had a wonderful line up of mixed legal teams, size and localities for a panel discussion. Catherine Schache (Environment Canterbury), Fiona McLeod (Nelson City Council), Jennie McFarlane (Waipa District Council) and Beth Keightley (Wellington City Council) discussed and answered questions around practice issues, how to get the most out of external legal providers / panels and managing the legal function. It was great to hear different practical experiences and realities around such things as the “triage” role, use of technology, taking instructions, externally briefing, expectations and accountability of legal providers.
Te-Kaharoa Manihera (Christchurch City Council) and Donna Llewell (Bay of Plenty Regional Council) provided a session about legal obligations to Tāngata Whenua. Donna impressing on us that a Treaty based relationship means that Māori are not just another community stakeholder in local government business. She also touched on the scope and potential impact for local government with the MACA (Takutai Moana / Coastal Marine Area) customary title proceedings. Te-Kaharoa talked about Tikanga Māori and key principles that underpin the relationships, collaboration and reciprocal obligations for successfully working with our Māori communities. He was a shining example of a Council employee balancing his whakapapa obligations having earlier that morning been urgently called off to give karakia / blessings in a community matter. Te-Kaharoa also reminded us that Māori are also landowners and ratepayers in local government business.
Dawn Baxendale (Chief Executive, Christchurch City Council) provided her thoughts through a new pair of eyes on the role of the local government lawyer. Dawn came from the UK to take up the role of CE in NZ five months ago. She strongly rejects use of the terms “no” and “clients”. We are all colleagues in this local government space. Dawn considered that the legal adviser must be part of the trusted, tight triangle (i.e. CE, CFO and CLA); and that a lawyer can add significant value as part of the leadership team. However, it is critical for such a lawyer to build and maintain those critical relationships, be trusted and demonstrate their added value for successful local government business.
Meredith Webb and Katy Bexley (Auckland Council) gave us an Auckland perspective of recent hot topics within their legal worlds. This included reporting on a recent High Court judicial review decision on Accommodation Provider Targeted Rates (i.e. rating of providers of on-line accommodation), challenges and balancing the rental of Council venues with the Bill of Rights freedoms of expression and association, and health, safety and commercial dramas around electric scooters.
Event participants were fed lunch and after-event drinks and nibbles by the kind sponsorship of Simpson Grierson and Buddle Findlay. The pre-lunch session was given by Joanna Lim, Sarah Scott and Mark Baker-Jones (Simpson Grierson) on the topic of climate change, explanation of the emissions trading scheme, workings of the zero carbon response bill, and RMA coastal & natural hazards planning. The pre-drinks session was given by Susan Rowe (Buddle Findlay) on legal professional privilege and putting that with practical tips into a local government context.
It has been a number of years since a dedicated gathering of local government lawyers so this event was very well received, stimulating and provided a great opportunity for sharing and networking with new colleagues. Special mention and bit thanks also to Vivienne Wilson and Latoya Ahkuoi (Christchurch City Council) for taking on the responsibility and organisation of this event. It is hoped that another Council legal team will soon volunteer to host and organise a similar event for 2021.