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Gore District Council councillor Graham Sharp. PHOTO: ENSIGN FILES

Conflict of interest at council meeting confirmed

A legal opinion has confirmed Cr Graham Sharp had a conflict of interest at a Gore District Council meeting where he voiced opposition to the drilling of another bore at Cooper’s Wells.

Cr Sharp could face prosecution for contravening the Local Authorities (Members’ Interests) Act and if convicted would have to vacate his position on the council.

At the council’s October meeting, Cr Sharp argued vehemently against the drilling of another bore at the Cooper’s Wells site, on which he farms, prompting the council to seek a legal opinion.

But Cr Sharp disputes the legal opinion obtained.

Anderson Lloyd partner Michael Garbett said in a letter to council chief executive Steve Parry that Cr Sharp, when considering bores and water supply at Cooper’s Wells, had a clear conflict of interest and should not participate in debate or vote on the issues.

“We consider that Cr Sharp when discussing and voting on the motion of a new well at Cooper’s Wells would have had an indirect pecuniary [financial] interest in the issue,” Mr Garbett said in the letter.

“We consider that an objective observer would likely conclude such an interest in the farm surrounding the wells would generate a pecuniary interest for Cr Sharp when considering whether a new well is established by council.”

Cr Sharp said he could prove he did not have a conflict of interest and he intended to deliver his explanation at the December 11 council meeting.

He said the Sharp Trust – which owns the farm – had an agreement with the council allowing it to drill wells at the site but if that resulted in the farm’s well drying up, the council would have to repair the well.

Cr Sharp said that because he already had an agreement, he was not in conflict when he made the statements.

“I’ve signed it, they’ve signed it, therefore everybody is in agreement there is no conflict,” he said.

Cr Sharp said he was only doing his job as a councillor when he commented at the meeting.

Mr Parry said Cr Sharp was partially right and the council did have an obligation under the agreement, but the clause only referred to one bore.

used one bore on the farm for stock water.

Mr Parry said the opinion made it “abundantly clear” Cr Sharp did have a conflict of interest and continuing to participate in the issue placed him in jeopardy of being prosecuted.

“If convicted, he would have to vacate his position of councillor,” Mr Parry said.

Councillors at the finance and policy committee meeting last week, received, noted and heeded a the recommendation the legal opinion be accepted and that was passed unanimously, Mr Parry said.

Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks said the ruling meant Cr Sharp would have to declare any interest and retire from meetings featuring discussion about the wells.

The Sharp Trust trustees are Craig Sharp, Graham Sharp, Maree Sharp, Lynette Sharp and Reginald Voice.