9 May 2017

Horowhenua sets up new committee over internal tensions

8:55 pm on 9 May 2017

They sit next to each other at council meetings, but Horowhenua's mayor says his relationship with his chief executive has become so difficult they can only discuss work-related matters within a new committee.

The district council's new group, called the Chief Executive Relationship Committee, is meeting for the first time tomorrow, where all formal council matters are to be discussed.

Horowhenua's new mayor, Michael Feyen, is refusing to enter the council building because of his concerns about its structural integrity.

The Horowhenua District Council's Chief Executive Relationship Committee will meet for the first time tomorrow. Photo: Google Maps / Screenshot

The mayor, Michael Feyen, said he believed the problems first started when he was a councillor and raised concerns about the structural integrity of the council building.

"That really hasn't helped with the relationship with myself and the CEO from that time I was a councillor, and it's just rolled over into this council really."

He said he wanted to resolve the issues with the chief executive, David Clapperton.

"I would much more prefer that there was a higher level of communication base ... no two ways about it.

"I look around [and] I'm actually sort of quite envious of how many other mayors there are around the country I talk to who have no problems at all, but I do," he said.

Mr Clapperton declined to be interviewed, but said in a statement that he wanted to maintain a strong working relationship with the mayor.

There was also controversy when Mr Feyen tried to replace his deputy mayor, Wayne Bishop, even though his council said he could not do that.

Mr Bishop is on the new relationship committee and said the current situation was not effective.

"It's sad that we find ourselves in a position where we don't have a highly desirable working relationship, I suppose you can call it.

"That's one of the driving factors behind establishing a wider group to carry these out," he said.

Palmerston North City Council chief executive Paddy Clifford said his relationship with the mayor was very important, and said they officially met twice a week but their communication was not limited to that.

"Evenings, early mornings, weekends, we text one another on particular matters so that we keep in contact all through the week," Mr Clifford said.

Local Government New Zealand president and Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said he was aware of the tensions at the Horowhenua council, and said it could be a risk to its performance.

"The quality of the relationship between the mayor and chief executive generally has a fundamental impact on the quality of the performance of the council.

"So when there are tensions, it always runs the risk of making the working environment for staff and councillors more difficult."

However, he did not think this specific situation would affect council functions.

"At the moment the council has a working majority to fulfil the things it needs to do. And it's not the only council in New Zealand that will have some tension between the mayor and the chief executive.

"As I understand it, most things in Horowhenua are being delivered as planned," Mr Yule said.

Local Government Minister Anne Tolley said she was aware of what was happening in Horowhenua, but there was a high threshold for ministerial intervention under the Local Government Act.

Invercargill deputy mayor urged to come clean on ousting

Meanwhile, in Invercargill, a ratepayers' group says its deputy mayor should be coming clean about his ousting, not threatening legal action.

Darren Ludlow has threatened to sue the mayor for defamation.

Darren Ludlow Photo: Supplied

The mayor, Tim Shadbolt, said Darren Ludlow today threatened to sue him if he told the full story behind the sudden resignation a fortnight ago.

At the time, Mr Ludlow said he was over-committed.

But nine councillors held a secret meeting with Mr Shadbolt the week before in an attempt to force Mr Ludlow to go because of his leadership style, councillors have confirmed to RNZ.

Invercargill Ratepayers' Advocacy Group spokesperson Nobby Clark said ratepayers deserved to know what really went on.

It was a bit sad, he said, because Mr Ludlow was a good and very popular councillor who might stand for mayor one day if Mr Shadbolt stood aside.

"But if he is not prepared to be up-front about this issue, what other issues might [he] not be up-front about," Mr Clark said.

Mr Ludlow has confirmed he warned the council's chief executive he would look at his legal options if any defamatory statements were made.

Asked why he had not told the whole story, Mr Ludlow said he did not mention the resignation call by councillors because he did not have to resign, and it was true he chose to do so because of his workload.

He still had not been told by his fellow councillors anything about why they wanted him out of the deputy mayoralty, and felt hard done by because he did not have any opportunity to respond to their concerns in advance, he said.

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