Bid to roll West Coast Regional Council chair Allan Birchfield

4:25 pm on 13 May 2021

An attempted coup is underway at the West Coast Regional Council with a bid to roll the chairperson Allan Birchfield.

WCRC chair Allan Birchfield at his Ngahere office - home of former Grey River gold dredge.

Allan Birchfield. Photo: LDR / Lois Williams

Deputy chairman Stuart Challenger confirmed to Local Democracy Reporting today that he had called an extraordinary meeting of the council to remove councillor Birchfield as chair.

Tensions between Birchfield and his deputy were evident at a council meeting this week, over changes to government-funded flood protection projects in Hokitika and Franz Josef Glacier.

Challenger said the changes were significant and the council had an obligation to go back to the communities and re-consult them.

"I called the meeting [to replace the chairman] because I am concerned at the way things have been operating," he said.

Challenger would not comment on whether his concerns about the chair were also linked to the unexplained absence of the council's new chief executive Vin Smith.

Smith has been on what Birchfield has described as "personal leave" since last week, with no return-to-work date given.

"Allan has his way of doing things and we believe he is not doing things in a democratic manner. He does things unilaterally," Challenger said.

Birchfield rejected that allegation this morning.

"I have always followed due process, and Stuart knows that, he has seen the legal advice we have had."

Local Democracy Reporting understands three other councillors have backed the call for the meeting, including Buller representative John Hill, whose vote gave Birchfield a one-vote majority when he was elected as chairman after the 2019 local body elections.

If all four vote to unseat Birchfield, he will lose his position as chair of the seven-member council. However, he would remain at the table.

"If I am rolled, I won't be pulling out of the council. I was the top-polling candidate by a long shot and I will be hanging in there to represent the best interests of the Coast and all the people who voted for me," Birchfield said.

The showdown meeting that will determine the chairman's fate is set for 31 May and will be open to the public.

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