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HOKITIKA CORPORATION.

The Hokitika Corporation is in a fix. It appears that a majority of the ratepayers desire the City Councillors to resign. They are all willing to do so except one, and the West Coast Times of March 30, gives the following description of the dead-lock, Those who remember the passage of the " Hokitika Municipal Corporation Ordinance," with its three hundred and odd clauses, through the Provincial Council during last session, will appreciate the dismay attendiug the discovery that so elaborate an example of legislation should be likely to prove incomplete : From the action taken by some of the ratepayers, and the tone of discussion that prevails on the now long-agitated question of resignation, we are driven very reluctantly to the conclusion that the Muuicipal law under which the town affairs are being administered is mosfcimperfectlyunderstoodbythegreat bulk of the citizens, and indeed by the majority of the Town Council themselves. The recent proceedings are unfortunate on many grounds, First, for the public inconvenience, delay of business, and auger of feeling they excite; and secondly, because Hokitika had gained some reputation for itself as having been the first town in Canterbury to secure an incorporation of its inhabitants, under circumstances that promised to give full effect to the principles of local self-government. It is mortifying to think that a dead-lock in the town administration should result under an Ordinance to secure the passing of which so much paius were taken; and that theopportunity should be given to any to point to the first piece of practical legislation for Westland as a failure.

No task was probably ever more difficult than to pass a Parliamentary Act which should provide for all possible contingencies. Practical legislation is the result of continuous amendment and modification. As a working measure the Hokitika Municipal Corporation Ordinance is tolerably complete. But neither those who framed it, nor those who performed the anxious and laborious task of securing its passage through the Oouucil, ever contemplated such a contingency as the one that has now arisen. Several important questions were raised last night at the meeting of the Town Council, which stand referred to the Town Solicitor. We may, however, anticipate that learned gentleman's formal opinion, by an eipression of our own views upon the points that suggest themselues upon a careful reading of the Ordinance, and a reference to the circumstances that have recently arisen. Some of these points were raised by Mr Shaw, but he by no means exhausted the subject. Indeed, it was felt from tbe outset of the discussion, that the whole question was too complicated to be hastily disposed ot; and the explanation of the solicitor that a further opportunity of eiamining the Ordinance was requisite before he could pronounce a positive opinion upon any of the points raised, was at once accepted. In our judgment the matter stands thus :

The first election of Councillors (nine) took place under the Canterbury Municipal Couucil Ordinance—under some circumstanees of irregularity. To amend the informality, a special Ordiuance was carried through the Provincial Council by one of the town members, declaring the election of the first nine Councillors to be valid. The Ordinance under which they held office continued in operation until the twelfth day of January last, and all acts done by them up to that date were valid, including the striking of the rates which are now in course of collection.

On the twelfth of January an Ordinance was assented to by the Superintendent, which lias since been left to-.its operation by the Governor, containing these provisions—first, that the Ordinance under which the first Town Council was elected was repealed. Secondly, that the Chairman and Councillors elected under that Ordinance, should be, and should remain in office, as the Mayor and Councillors of the town under the new Ordinance (without auv re-election) until the ninth day of October, 1867. Thirdly, that in anticipation of a fresh election to tako place then, machinery should be brought into play for creating a proper constituency or electoral body; and fourthly, that such electoral body should consist of enrolled citizens—no one being entitled to be so enrolled except those who, being males of full age, should on the first day of Septera-

ber in any year be seized of property either as owners or tenants. _ It is very plain, therefore, that no citizens' roll is at the present moment in existence; because no Ist of September has yet passed since the enactment of the Ordinance. Some doubt on this point may perhaps he suggested by the wording of tho sth clause, which runs thus:—"Every male person of tho full age of twenty-one, who on the first day of September in any year shall be seized of occupy &c." But all ambiguity that may at first sight appear to bo attached to this passage is removed by the subsequent words—- " whose name"shall he inserted in the assessment hereinafter to bemacle, shall be a citizen of the said town, and a member of the Corporation, and entitled to bo enrolled on the Citizens Roll under the provisions of this Ordinance"— assented to on the 12th of January,, 1867. The 6th clause again reads : "On or before tho fifteenth day of September in each year, the Town Clerk appointed as hereinafter provided, shall cause alphabetical lists to be prepared &c." and "such lists being signed by the Mayor and Town Clerk shall form and be called tho Citizen's Eoll." Then clause seven—- " No person unless so enrolled shall be qualified to be elected to any office or to vote at any election under this Ordinance."

No language could possibly be more explicit, and the conclusion is inevitable that there is no Citizens' Eoll within the meaning of the Ordinance in existence in Hokitika at this present time, and that there cannot be one until after the fifteenth of next September. Nor is there any other electoral body in legal existence. The old Ordinance is repealed absolutely, and the new one does not provide for the creation of ut Corporation or constituency until September. The Ordinance declares that the nine members elected under the old law, with their chairman, shall he the Mayor and Council until October. We have thus a legal Town Council, competent to exercise all the powers conferred on the Corporation by this Act. But it contains no provision for re-filling any seat that may become vacant under the 33rd or 3<ith clauses. We cannot see how this difficulty is to be got over. And if the seven members who are now asked to retire, adopt that course, paying the peualty of £25 each required by the Ordinance, the Municipal Council must necessarily lapse altogether, and the town become disincorporated, since no person but an enrolled citizen is "qualified to be elected or to vote at any election." Is this what the ratepayers want ? Is the town tired already of its municipal privileges ? It is wearied of its Mayor; content to fall back again upon its old Improvement Committee; anxious to divest itself of the power of making bye-laws for the suppression of nuisances and the good management of the municipality ? Does it wish to reject the handsome endowment which the Government propose to confer upon it in the proceeds of its land sales ? All these things must result if the members of the Council yield to the unthinking cry that has been raised, The town will remain incorporated without a governing Council. No machinery will even be left in existence for the formation of the citizens' roll in September next. No authority even left to take charge of the seven fines amounting to £175, which the retiring Councillors will have to pay. All will be chaos. And all brought about by what is surely one of the pettiest agitations that was ever allowed to disturb the harmony and good Government of a town endowed with free institutions, and with a fine opportunity of turning them to the best account.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/LT18670405.2.16

Bibliographic details

HOKITIKA CORPORATION., Lyttelton Times, Volume XXVII, Issue 1964, 5 April 1867

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HOKITIKA CORPORATION. Lyttelton Times, Volume XXVII, Issue 1964, 5 April 1867

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