Councillors face criticism after South Wairarapa mayor's sidelining

7:02 pm on 8 May 2024
South Wairarapa District Council Mayor Martin Connelly has had a vote of no confidence passed against him.

Mayor Martin Connelly has been stripped of membership roles on various groups and committees. Photo: LDR / Sue Teodoro

Tensions remain high in South Wairarapa following the sidelining of the district's mayor, with public participation being shut down during a meeting due to a breach of the rules.

Later in the Strategy Working Committee meeting on Wednesday, Mayor Martin Connelly's motion to present an oral report under extraordinary business failed as he could not find someone to second his request.

It follows an extraordinary meeting on 24 April where Connelly was stripped of membership roles on various groups and committees. Connelly was at the end of a two-month leave of absence for "wellbeing issues" at the time.

In a public presentation at Wednesday's meeting, former mayoral candidate and Martinborough resident Daphne Geisler said she wanted to "share my disgust" at the behaviour at the 24 April meeting.

"The sole agenda was to redistribute committees on which the mayor was our representative.

"Your perceived performance of a duly elected mayor was then severely criticised in public and in his absence, and the meeting redistributed his committee duties as if it was a lolly scramble."

She said the actions of elected members were counter to their own Code of Conduct.

Martinborough resident Daphne Geisler

Photo: LDR / Wairarapa Times-Age

Martinborough resident Daphne Geisler is accusing councillors of breaching their own Code of Conduct.

The code instructs elected members to conduct their dealings with each other in a manner that "maintains public confidence; is honest and courteous … [and] avoids aggressive, bullying, or offensive conduct".

Deputy mayor Melissa Sadler-Futter, who chairs the Strategy Working Group, told Geisler she was welcome to her opinion and to present to the meeting.

"[But] our Standing Orders do say that the speaker is not able to criticise elected members and / or staff."

"While you are able to continue I suggest you change your tone," Sadler-Futter said.

Geisler said she was "giving her observations", to which Sadler-Futter responded that Geisler was "currently being incredibly critical and that is not falling under our Standing Orders".

"I was taking a lead from your meeting on the 24th when you were all incredibly critical of someone who wasn't there," Geisler responded, referring to Connelly being absent from the previous meeting as he was on leave.

"I'm critical of you to your faces. I think that's a lot more appropriate," Geisler said.

She said "disrespectful" criticism in public was not acceptable according to the South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] Code of Conduct and asked if the process of the 24 April meeting could be considered bullying.

Sadler-Futter interjected again that "criticism of elected members and staff is not permissible".

"You may continue but you must change your language," she said.

Councillor Aidan Ellims said Geisler was basing her opinions on "a very small part of limited knowledge" about the situation.

Sadler-Futter then ended the public participation segment and adjourned the meeting.

Under the SWDC Standing Orders, the chair of a meeting can decline to hear a speaker or terminate a presentation if the speaker is criticising elected members or staff.

After the meeting, Geisler told Local Democracy Reporting that she was criticising "behaviour of the group at one specific meeting - not individuals and not previous decisions".

"If ratepayers can no longer comment critically on the behaviour of council, what on earth is going on at SWDC?" she said.

"I did not vote for this mayor, but I did vote for democracy and I respect the position and institution.

"I would have stood up for any of the councillors had they been removed from assigned duties, and publicly criticised in their absence, a day before they returned to work."

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