Cr David Bassett, Cr Leigh Sutton and myself are calling on the Mayor to stand down, pending multiple investigations into his actions.
The Mayor or someone under his direction has leaked a letter to the DomPost from him and his councillor supporters to me. They have asked that I resign from Council alleging, amongst other things, that I am a bully. Those who know me will know that that is just straight character assassination and cannot be true. They have not told me what bullying and harassment I've done - they have just slagged me off to the media.
Here's the letter back to the Mayor, signed by Cr David Bassett, Cr Leigh Sutton and myself. We are calling on the Mayor to stand down, pending multiple investigations into his actions.
Mayor Campbell Barry 2 March 2021
By email: Campbell.Barry@huttcity.govt.nz
Copy: All Councillors
Dear Mayor Barry,
As elected members, we are all privileged to serve our community and work every day to achieve the best outcomes for the people who live in our city.
While we may not always agree with each other on the best way to achieve our goals, we believe we all share the same aspiration to make Lower Hutt a better place “to live, work and play”. To that end, we expect to listen to one another, respect differences of opinion, and work professionally and collaboratively to get things done for Lower Hutt.
You are a young, first-time mayor, with “super” leadership duties owed to all other councillors and ratepayers and residents of the city. Those duties include “leading” by example and fostering collegiality among councillors. You are also empowered to appoint and remove councillors to key committees. Councillors and residents expect that the mayor discharges these duties properly and faithfully, objectively without conflict or personal interest, and in the best interests of the city.
At times your conduct since being elected as mayor has been at direct odds with these expectations, and your duties. You have let issues or challenges become personal, apparently forgetting you are the city’s leader and rightly accountable to other councillors and the ratepayers.
It is pleasing that the council has been rejuvenated with new members. At this time it has several inexperienced first-term councillors who understandably are watching and learning from, and influenced by mayoral leadership. It is enlightening, however, that two of the most senior and skilled councillors who have both been re-elected multiple times to council and served under different mayors are signatories to this letter. They have a proven track record and support of ratepayers and past councils.
During 2020 you presided over a code of conduct process against one of these two senior councillors. That process appeared to be designed primarily to discredit and humiliate him. The process was chaired by you.
There were two alleged conduct breaches by the councillor. At this point, we only mention one: the alleged breach by the councillor in respect of the council waste tender undertaken concurrently with public consultation. That alleged breach had its origins in a phone call received by the CEO and precipitative action taken by her after that call without first consulting the councillor, which we believe she was required to do.
In our opinion, that councillor did what he was elected by ratepayers to do as a steward/trustee of council’s operations, and did so thoroughly and diligently. His work and questions around the council’s operations have proven to be consistent with the public concerns and feedback to the consultation on the existing waste arrangements (and at odds with your preferred election position and the work of officers).
Importantly, there was no conduct breach by the councillor evident, simply because the tender was never “discussed” by the councillor with a tenderer, which was the breach claimed. Further, you had encouraged all councillors to have conversations and dialogue with waste collection providers – something you did yourself, with the CEO.
At a key part of the code breach process, you did not permit ratepayer discussion that contested or corrected the Donnelly report. It appears that the report’s conclusions suited your purposes because the councillor was opposing one of your election promises. A mayor may have a vision for the city. But it is the council, not the mayor or officers that must approve and sign off on it after the necessary “operational leg work” work has been diligently done by officers to inform councillors and robust councillor discussion, of that work. The councillor was right and discharging his duties to make his challenges both of the proposal for change and of the work and analysis including consultation done by officers to support it.
You then determined that discussion and decision making on both alleged conduct breaches were to be held in non-public and later that no reasoning for the outcome would be made public.
None of this was fair or reasonable.
During the code of conduct process, it emerged (via the statement by Colin Cashmore) that you and the CEO may have acted in a very similar way to what was alleged against the councillor; meeting and talking with a waste collection provider. If the evidence we have seen is true, and if the councillor breached the code (which we do not accept), then so did you, and the actions of the CEO ought to have also been investigated.
And we believe you should not have publicly censured the councillor for his acts especially as you had, in writing, encouraged contact by councillors with waste collection providers. Censure was not appropriate or needed for that reason and because the councillor had already offered a pragmatic and practical face-saving solution for all parties to the claims made against him, which could have enabled the issue to be resolved collegially among councillors; a solution which you rejected.
When evidence of your activities was provided to councillors (the Cashmore statement) in October 2020 you ignored the evidence and pressed on with the code complaint hearing. When that councillor recently re-presented the evidence and asked what you were going to do about it, you dismissed the evidence as ‘unfounded’ and claimed, diverting the issue away from you and the CEO, that the councillor was attacking the CEO.
While Mr Cashmore’s statement does not appear to reflect well on the CEO, you cannot have believed that the purpose of presenting the evidence was to attack the CEO. The purpose rightly was to have your role in the matter investigated in the same way that you had required the councillor’s role to be examined. You had no basis to claim that the evidence was “unfounded” as the person who supplied the evidence has not been spoken to by anyone at the council. As the complaint was genuine and concerned you, you should have responded by ensuring that the matter was independently investigated without your involvement. Instead, you decided that you had not breached the code of conduct. Although you are the mayor, where a code of conduct concern is raised about you, you are subject to the same processes as all other councillors. It is self-evident that no councillor can determine binding other councillors that a code claim against him or she need not be answered. This issue remains unresolved.
Another serious issue, still unresolved, is the question of your land purchase in Upper Fitzherbert Street, Wainuiomata at a time where you were aware or should have been aware of confidential inside council information, relating to a proposed rezoning of that land. A complaint was made by a Wainuiomata resident to the Auditor General. The AG referred it to the Serious Fraud Office.
The council’s website says that the SFO reported as follows:
“The SFO has conducted inquiries to determine whether the criteria under the Act was met to open a formal investigation. On the basis of these inquiries and the evidence presented to us, we are satisfied that there is no reason to suspect that you have committed fraud, corruption or bribery in relation to the purchase of the property.”
As the SFO explains, for it to have investigated the transaction there needed to be evidence of a serious crime or fraud. The SFO concluded from what they had seen there was no crime or fraud. It is not a crime under the Local Government Act for a councillor to use confidential (or “inside”) council information for their financial gain. It is however potentially deeply unethical, and a breach of the duties owed to ratepayers by an elected member. Such an act is in direct breach of the trust of their position and we understand potentially could give rise to civil remedies.
The SFO did not investigate and had no power to investigate, whether you used confidential council information to profit yourself. The SFO has not ‘cleared’ you; it has only said that (from the analysis) they could not see evidence of a serious crime.
Many people in the community are convinced that you used confidential council information when purchasing your property.
The issue is not whether or not a crime has been committed. The issue is whether you financially advantaged yourself or others close to you through acting on confidential council information you held or knew of because it had been provided to you confidentially in your role as a councillor.
This issue also remains unresolved.
You have effectively prevented the council from discussing it, including in your case through making a threat of litigation against a councillor who requested that the matter be discussed around the council table.
There are also unanswered questions surrounding the halting of the project, without any discussion by councillors but following the complaint to the AG and SFO, of the proposed Upper Fitzherbert area land rezoning. Rezoning proposals affect property values and people with inside knowledge of proposals could transact for personal gain in advance of the proposals being publicly notified.
During 2017-2019 council officers and consultants invested a large amount of time and money into this proposal, which could have resulted in the construction of 1,800 homes, plus shops and a school - the largest residential subdivision seen in the city since the 1970s.
This was at a time of acute housing need, shortages and price inflation in the city, and associated hardship for many residents.
Residents have legitimately asked why was this rezoning halted when doing so is contrary to the overall thrust of the city’s housing policy? A question being asked is was the rezoning halted because of your land purchase and the resulting interest shown by the public in that purchase? Why was the work halted when previously councillors were deeply involved and consulted in highly confidential terms on development options for the area, for obvious market sensitivity reasons?
There have been other unanswered questions raised by councillors and ratepayers in this council term involving you. This includes your E Tu election funding, the after-the-fact procurement of an in house legal opinion where the city solicitor was not provided with all relevant facts before issuing his opinion and your voting on the living wage five days after receiving a non-declared donation from E Tu, the organisation promoting it. This is a matter which bears strong similarities in terms of conflict of interest concerns to the second code complaint you vigorously prosecuted against the councillor concerning alleged conflicts at Mitchell Park.
The pattern of behaviour by you that deeply concerns us and has led to this letter is your inability, as our mayor, to resolve or address very serious issues professionally, objectively, and while recognising and addressing your interests and conflicts. One approach has been to attack one councillor on other issues. This councillor has been the most vocal and energetic in challenging some of your policy initiatives and questioning council operations. At the same time, you have denied and deflected issues that involve you or the CEO but never acted to resolve serious issues or claims involving you or the CEO in a way that resolves them to our or the community’s satisfaction.
We, call on you to stand down as mayor while an investigation and review, fully independent of the council and by a person or persons acceptable to all councillors, is conducted into each of the following matters:
a) The matters raised in the statement by Mr Colin Cashmore regarding the involvement of yourself and the CEO in the waste tender procurement process.
b) The findings in the Donnelly report and the council’s process and the majority decision and penalties imposed in respect of the councillor.
c) Your purchase of land in Upper Fitzherbert Street, Wainuiomata and the subsequent involvement of the CEO.
Until these matters have been fully investigated and publicly reported on it will be very difficult for this council to function collegially and with credibility in the community and around the council table.
We ask you to reflect on this request and advise us of your response.
Cr David Bassett
Cr Leigh Sutton
Cr Chris Milne