Iwi mediation saves council chairman Allan Birchfield from confidence vote

5:12 pm on 27 May 2021

A planned coup against West Coast Regional Council chairman Allan Birchfield has been called off, after iwi leaders stepped in to defuse the row.

Stuart Challenger, right, wants Allan Birchfield removed from his role as chair of West Coast Regional Council.

Photo: West Coast Regional Council

Four of the council's seven members were set to remove Cr Birchfield from the role at an extraordinary meeting next Monday and install deputy chairman Stuart Challenger in his place.

But a statement released today by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Waewae said the meeting had been cancelled after a hui at Arahura marae.

"This follows mediation on Tuesday brokered by Poutini Ngāi Tahu leadership Francois Tumahai, of Ngāti Waewae, Paul Madgwick from Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio and Lisa Tumahai the kaiwhakahaere of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu," the statement says.

The unanimous decision to withdraw the motion for an extraordinary meeting and address the issues in-house was made in the spirit of the partnership agreement, Te Mana Whakahono, signed by the council and mana whenua last October, the rūnanga said.

"Rather than putting the office of chair to a confidence vote next Monday, councillors agreed to seek external assistance to guide governance issues, and to move ahead positively and in unity."

Ngāti Waewae chairman Francois Tumahai warned earlier this month that the plan to roll the chairman would jeopardise the Mana Whakahono agreement.*

The iwi had not been consulted about the issue, which was disrespectful and against the spirit of partnership, Tumahai said.

Cr Stuart Challenger, who led the move to depose Cr Birchfield, said he was not entirely happy with the peace deal - but it was worth a try.

Ngāti Waewae chair Francois Tumahai.

Ngāti Waewae chair Francois Tumahai. Photo: LDR

"We have to try and see if it works; the alternative would explode the council."

He and others were worried by the chairman's tendency to act unilaterally, his resistance to climate change action, and his frequent statements opposing actions the council was legally required to carry out, such as mapping SNAs, Cr Challenger said.

"We need to rein Allan in and I'm not sure how long that'll last but we have to give it a go."

Cr Birchfield declined to respond, saying the council had agreed not to make further comment and needed to move on.

The council's chief executive Vin Smith remains on personal leave, while an employment investigation initiated by the chairman continues.

*This article has been corrected to remove an erroneous attribution of a statement to the Ngāti Waewae chairman.

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