Horowhenua Council Rumpus

levin-protest-3Public row in Levin as Councillors try to sack Deputy Mayor 

By KIN Local Govt. correspondent Jeremy Smith

Horowhenua has a new deputy mayor- but he’s the old one Ross Campbell!

A long and noisy, sometimes bitter, meeting of the Horowhenua District Council yesterday, including a karakia from

Sometime Deputy Mayor Ross Campbell
Sometime Deputy Mayor Ross Campbell

one councillor, saw Campbell dumped as the deputy by a vote of six to two then promptly reinstated by district mayor Michael Feyen.

New Mayor, Michael Freyen, wants to keep public housing
New Mayor, Michael Freyen, wants to keep Deputy Ross Campbell

Feyen overrode the councillors’ 6-2 vote for Councillor Wayne Bishop, saying the Act dealing with the selection of deputy mayor gave him power to do this.

Legal ruling sought

But Cr Campbell better not get too comfortable in his old/new role. Mayor Feyen said he and the Horowhenua  CEO would immediately start looking for a legal ruling which might justify his decision.

The Local Government Act gives mayors the power to select the deputy but it also says councillors can also vote to remove a deputy and vote on one of their choice. This was the process followed at Levin on Wednesday.

Demonstrators outside before moving into the Council building
Demonstrators outside before moving into the Council building

The packed meeting saw members of the public spilling out of the council chamber into the main reception area.

The tension reflected  events going back three years when Feyen and Campbell were two dissenting and controversial members of the Horowhenua Council.

October’s  local elections saw Feyen beat sitting mayor Brendon Duffy while Campbell was re-elected for another

Former HDC Mayor Brendan Duffy
Former HDC Mayor Brendan Duffy

term.

Making headlines

Feyen and Campbell made headlines when they refused to go into the council HQ in Levin, saying they did not accept engineers’ reports on its safety.

The afternoon meeting started with the usual public forum which most speakers opposing the move to dump the deputy.

One quoted the bible from St Mathew about not judging other people.

Another suggested Horowhenua was looking at a “Kaipara solution” with commissioners having to take over the council. (The Dargaville-based council ended up under Commissioners after a cost blowout relating to sewerage at the beach settlement of Mangawhai.)

Applause from supporters

The public submitters from  the pro-Campbell side were greeted  with clapping and cheers.

The anti-Campbell side had to wait until the councillors themselves spoke.

Councillor Christine Mitchell said she could not trust Campbell as deputy mayor- he had posted videos online suggesting businesses had received financial advantages from council associations.

He had also published information about council which was either deliberate or misleading and supplied information to reporters which was misleading.

Accusations flow

The strongest clapping came when councillor Barry Judd said Campbell had publicly accused him of corruption and insider trading..

Levin-based councillor Bernie Wanden said Campbell had turned Horowhenua district into a circus.

But if councillors thought they were on track to dump their deputy-mayor they received a surprise.

Mayor Feyen said regardless of  the vote he would then reinstate Campbell. He said he appointed Campbell as deputy because he was the only councillor in the previous three years “who gave me  the time of day”.

The vote itself was complicated when Councillor Piri Tukapua, said she wanted to nominate Victoria Kaye-Simmonds.

But the final vote was clear- a decisive majority wanted Wayne Bishop as Horowhenua deputy mayor.

Asked if the process would involve expensive QCs and a possible judicial review, Mayor Feyen said he did not know. But he said the law governing the deputy appointment “was an ass”.

Final note

And a final note- the references to corruption came for material posted on a Facebook page. Dangerous stuff “social”  media.

And while the usual range of movies was screening  in Levin yesterday  the best show in town was down at the council- it was free … and you got tea and biscuits.

For some of us in Kapiti, the Horowhenua tension between the power of the Mayor to select the deputy and right of Councillors to vote to remove a deputy and vote in one their choice, is watched with interest. The comment from K R Bolton makes one wonder what it is that Ross Campbell might or might not have done in comparison with Kapiti’s new Deputy Mayor Janet Holborow. Michael Fayen’s quoted primary reason for appointment of Campbell was because he was the only councillor in the previous three years “who gave me the time of day”. In Kapiti, the elected Mayor has offered the explanation to K R Bolton and his wife that he appointed Holborow as deputy mayor because he “did not want to be stabbed in the back”. For the Mayor to say he appointed his deputy for the reason given should surely make people think a bit more about the integrity of those they vote for. My question to Mayor Gurunathan is to clarify the basis on which he appointed his current deputy. From his statement to K R Bolton: 1) what was it about Holborow’s integrity that led him to believe that he was at risk of being stabbed in the back, and 2) knowing this, why did he then go on and appoint her deputy mayor?

While my sympathies, for what they’re worth (and not much) are with Ross Campbell and Michael Freyen, in Kapiti’s situation, there should be a motion of no-confidence in Cr. Holborow as deputy mayor. There is a serious issue of integrity and honesty here, in regard to her having made false allegations against a ratepayer, of a serious nature, and for a petty reason.

Furthermore, his worship’s stated explanation to my wife and I that he appointed Cr Holborow his deputy because he ‘did not want to be stabbed in the back’ (sic) seems hardly a reason for public confidence in his selection.