Probe into councillor's comments on Māngere tree removal submissions

8:12 pm on 13 November 2019

Auckland Council is looking into a code of conduct complaint following a councillor's alleged outburst about tree removal from Māngere Mountain.

Josephine Bartley

A complaint has been made against councillor Josephine Bartley over alleged comments and conduct. Photo: Supplied/ Facebook

The complaint against councillor Josephine Bartley, who last month comfortably retained her majority in the Maungakiekie-Tāmaki ward, has been referred to chief executive Stephen Town.

It was originally fielded by Mayor Phil Goff's office.

The complaint has been made by Māngere Bridge resident Kirsty Hunt, who, on May 6, addressed members of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority on the removal of 152 exotic trees from Māngere Mountain and tree removals from other Auckland maunga.

"I went specifically to object to the removal of 152 trees from Māngere Mountain and the planned removal of all non-native trees from the 14 maunga of Auckland," Ms Hunt's complaint reads.

"I used the appropriate channels in the appropriate manner."

Ms Hunt claims Councillor Bartley went on a "rant" following her presentation, a copy of which accompanied her complaint.

"Ms Bartley began shouting at me and on four occasions yelled directly at me 'you are disgusting'!" Ms Hunt claimed.

Ms Hunt's complaint went on to say she was not an activist and had "no political motivation".

"I addressed the Authority sincerely as a concerned resident and community member of Māngere Bridge, and as a mother-of-three young boys who will not see these trees replaced in their lifetime."

In her email to Mayor Goff's office, Mrs Hunt referred to two previous complaints made following the 6 May hui.

Mrs Hunt claimed to have seen the mayoral office's response to those complaints, in which Mr Goff pointed out, "neither the chair nor any member considered intervention was necessary when Councillor Bartley was speaking".

On Wednesday, Ms Hunt was asked why she had taken seven months to complain about Councillor Bartley's conduct.

"At the time when I was going to write the complaint I felt unsupported and I was warned off by people not to put the complaint in," she said.

"But more recently the events on Mt Albert and the media coverage … the tree culling's getting, particularly the support it got from Duncan Garner on the AM Show on Monday, I felt the courage to send it."

Ms Hunt would not give further details when pressed on her initial hesitance to lodge the complaint.

"I'd prefer not to just go into it right now - I need to consider that [and] whether I say anything about that or not."

Ms Bartley said today that another councillor had told her about the latest complaint.

"I can see what's happening, I can see what they're trying to do and I don't like it," she said.

The complaint was "out of context".

"I mean, I can't say how she felt and she can't say how I felt," Ms Bartley said.

Councillor Bartley then requested more time to provide a response.

In a subsequent statement, sent after talking to "council people,'' Ms Bartley said she would let the complaints process run its course.

"Thank you for your enquiry, the matter was previously raised and addressed by council and the authority both deciding not to take it any further," she pointed out.

"I am aware of the complaint and think that it appropriate for myself to allow the complaint process to run its course."

Ms Bartley said she did not want to "undermine that process".

On Wednesday afternoon, Auckland Council's governance director, Phil Wilson, confirmed MrTown's office had received a code of conduct complaint about Ms Bartley.

"This complaint relates to her response to a presentation at a Tūpuna Maunga Authority hui," he said.

"Chief executive Stephen Town will look into this matter and respond accordingly.

"We are unable to make any further comment at this time."

The removal of exotic trees from Auckland's maunga has become a highly charged issue of late.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority plans to remove the trees as part of its plan to restore native vegetation on the maunga.

However, it has been met with protest - about 200 people turned to Auckland's Ōwairaka/Mt Albert up on Monday morning, vowing to stay there until a promise the trees would not be chopped down was forthcoming.

Despite claims of inadequate consultation, a Tree Council spokesperson said the public was notified of the plans in April 2016 and were invited to make submissions.

The plan would see non-native trees removed from 14 Auckland maunga. More than 100 exotic trees were removed from Ōhuiarangi/Pigeon Mountain in April and 150 trees were felled on Māngere Mountain in March, upsetting local residents, including Ms Hunt.

Auckland's Tūpuna Maunga are owned by the 13 iwi/hapū of Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau through the Tūpuna Taonga o Tāmaki Makaurau Trust.

Ownership of the land at Māngere Mountain remains with the Crown and is administered by the Tūpuna Maunga Authority.

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