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Contracting Councillors.

A recent decision by the Dunedin R.MJJ is likely to attract some attention, We do not know but tint it is the first case of the kind that has been disposed of iu the Colony, and as suck it is a very important one, involving as it does the seats of a largo number of representatives at the Borough Council Boards of New Zealand. The Municipal Corporations Act expressly provides- that no Mayor nor Councillor who has any pecuniary interest in “ any contract or work done” for the Council pf which he is a member can hold his seat at such Council; and farther that lie is liable to a fine of LSO for every offence under this clause. The case decided hy th e ft-M* at Dunedin was one in which the successful pgipli-lato in the Mayoral election was accused of bping interested iu a contract held from the City Council at the time of his election, and in accordance with the provisions of clauses 97 and 98 of the Municipal Corporations Act the Magistrate had no choice, the evidence of connection with the contract being forthcoming’ but to oust Mr. H. S. Fish from office. We give the clauses below :

97. Upon prima’facio proof by affidavit or otherwise that the Mayor or any Councillor or Auditor is or has become in ■ capable under the provisions of this Act of holding his office, the Resident Magistrate's Court, in or nearest to the borough may grant a summons, calling upon the persons holding such office to show cause why he should not be adjudged to be ousted of the same.

98, If upon the return of such summons it appears to the Court upon affidavit or oral evidence upon oath that such person is incapable under the provisions of thin Act of holding the said office the Court may adjudge such person to be ousted of the s .oir, -md sn h person shall be ousted of such office accordingly. It does seem hard that a gentleman, holding the confidence of the ratepayers and securing the highest honor in the gift nl bis town, should have to yield up

that htmor-to-hw-rival simply beoaUsehohappened to be,a participator in the pi-uils iccra'ng ujjn a contract held f on the Giry Couuoii. But then it so happens that the municipal corporations of the colony have at their dispjsal a large number of valuable Contracts, and a ere the law not as stringent as it is, the way would be open to unheard-of abuse. Unman nature is human nature all the world over, and there are men living in plenty who would have no hesitation in aiming at a seat on a well-to-do Council for no other purpose than that of securing, by the influence they might, .h» able to exercise and the knowledge they, might possess in virtue of their position, such fat contracts as may he going. The law is very explicit, and very comprehensive, and if any councillor comesv to grief under it he has himself to blame. It der tails who are incapable of. holding the office of councillor, and from sub-section 4,-of clause 61, which we quote below it willbeseen that the line is not drawn at a “ contract" as the term is generally understood, hut extends to any work done ; for the Council. Thus read, no Councillor nor Mayor of a borough could do a sing:« iota of work for the Corporation, and receive payment for that work, without, for. feitin" his seat at the table an I rendering niiiiself liable to i fi.;eo c £SO reoovevaVe>-. the nearest 11.51- Court, ami at the suite' any ratepayer. 61. The following persons shall be incapable of being, or of being elected to be Councillors, that is to say—(l.) A bankrupt or insolvent who has not obtained bis final order of discharge.

(2.) Any person, attainted of treason, or convicted of felony, perjury, or of any infamous crime. (3.) Any person of unsound mind. (4.) Any person holding any office or place of profit under, or in the gift of, the Council, or being concerned or participating (other than as a shareholder in a company or partnership of more than twenty persons) in any CONTRACT WITH, OB WORK TO BE DONE FOR THE COUNCIL. G2. (Requires the customary declaration of fidelity and impartiality to bo signed). 63. If any person does any act as a Councillor, being incapacitated as herein provided, except for uusoun.lness of mind, or before lie has signed the declaration aforesaid, he shall be liable to a penalty of fifty pounds for every such offence, which may be recovered by any person with costs of suit in any court of competent jurisdiction. But any such act done by a person so incapacitated before the recovery of the penalty shall be as valid as though be had not been under any such incapacity.

The works a municipal body wants done are of a kind calculated to exclude all builders, road contractors, printers, newspaper proprietors, and even lawyers, who may hold seats at the Council table, from having the Council as customers in their business. It does seem hard that men willing to give their time and ability to the service of the community in which they live should be prevented from honestly and deservedly sharing in the ordinary way of bona fide trade in any public work that may be put up to public tender or otherwise offered by the body of which they are members; but then again, the law was passed with a view to purify the Councils of the colony from any -possibility of jobbery, and when a man contests the position of a Borough Councillor, he does so in Mm fb’d knowledge that as soon as he signs the Statutory declaration he is required to make, be surrenders all chance of doing any work whatever for the Borough for payment, no matter how trifling that work may be, and subjects hims df to the penalty pointed out in the clauses we have qiioted.

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Bibliographic details

Contracting Councillors., Ashburton Guardian, Volume I, Issue 39, 25 December 1879

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Contracting Councillors. Ashburton Guardian, Volume I, Issue 39, 25 December 1879

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