Beleaguered West Coast Regional Council chairman Allan Birchfield has rejected claims that he bullied council staff and tried to interfere with resource consent decisions.
It has also been revealed a 30 percent rate rise could be looming for West Coast regional ratepayers this year.
Four of the council's seven members are backing a move to oust councillor Birchfield as chairman, at an extraordinary meeting called for Monday, 31 May.
A letter obtained by the Greymouth Star shows that chief executive Vin Smith, who is on unexplained leave, had concerns about Birchfield's communications with staff on compliance issues.
Birchfield said today he had "robust" discussions with Smith over the staff decision to suddenly shut down demolition work on two old hotels in Greymouth - one of them just before Christmas.
"They shut down major demolition jobs in the middle of town at Revingtons and Kings - leaving big piles of rubble on site. That's a health and safety risk and I protested about it, but I was never abusive."
Birchfield told the Greymouth Star at the time the council would seek an independent legal opinion on the staff interpretation of the resource consents.
He also alleged today that influence over the coup was coming from Wellington.
"Forest and Bird knew about this almost before I did - they don't want me because they don't like my views on climate change and conservation," Birchfield said.
He claimed deputy chairman councillor Stuart Challenger, who was leading the charge against him, was a member of Forest and Bird.
Challenger confirmed he had been a member of the conservation group, but was not currently.
"I let my membership lapse a couple of years ago because Allan regards Forest and Bird as the enemy, and that was a potential source of conflict between us, and I thought it best to remove it."
Challenger said the move to unseat the chairman was not personal.
"We have a terribly complicated situation going on at the council, and we are under a lot of pressure, politically and financially."
He confirmed a rate rise and the heavy workload being imposed on staff by new government regulations were among the pressures weighing on councillors and staff.
A document leaked to the Greymouth Star indicates the council is contemplating a rate rise of 30 percent this year to meet costs, and 10 percent increases in the following two years.
"We are trying to get the best out of the situation and we need a team effort at this point, not a dictatorship," Challenger said.
The deputy chair has accused the chairman of acting "undemocratically and unilaterally" - a claim Birchfield rejects.
The Greymouth Star sought comment on the regional council crisis this morning from all seven councillors, but Birchfield's two supporters were the only ones willing or available to speak.
Councillor Brett Cummings said he was seriously disappointed with the councillors behind the looming coup.
"They seem to be putting their own agenda ahead of what is right for the council and the ratepayers."
Councillor Peter Ewen said Birchfield had his full backing and support as chairman and he would not extend that to any "lurking and opportunistic wannabes".
"Allan, unlike three of the four against him, is a born and bred Coaster. He has done more for the Coast in relation to championing the region's interests in these trying times, than those opposed to him collectively could ever hope to muster."
Three of the chairman's challengers were first-term councillors, Ewen said.
"Just a year out from nominations for next year's election, in my opinion, their action will possibly go down as one of the stupidest political moves in West Coast local body politics."
Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae chairman Francois Tumahai, who is not on the council, but is an iwi rep on its resource management committee said he was deeply disappointed at the move to roll the chairman.
"From our perspective, the only person who's been in touch with us is Allan and we've heard nothing at all from these councillors who want to get rid of him."
That was disrespectful to mana whenua and did not bode well for the future of the Mana Whakahono agreement the council had signed with Poutini Ngāi Tahu, he said.
"We are supposed to be partners, and we have not been informed about what's going on. Allan could only tell us minimal details because there are legal issues involved but at least he had the courtesy to call us."
Councillor Challenger told Local Democracy Reporting Friday evening that was untrue: he had called Tumahai last Friday after handing a letter to council calling for the meeting to remove the chair.
Tumahai has since clarified his statement, confirming Councillor Challenger did call him but only to say the decision had been made.
"There was no attempt to tell us what was going on, engage with us or see our views," the Ngāti Waewae leader said this evening.
That was disrespectful to manawhenua and did not bode well for the future of the Mana Whakahono agreement the council had signed with Poutini Ngāi Tahu, he said.
"We are supposed to be partners, and we have not been informed about what's been going on. Allan could only tell us minimal details because there are legal issues involved but at least he had the courtesy to call us."
Councillor Birchfield had explained what he could about what was going on but Councillor Challenger had not, Tumahai said.
Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.