Code of conduct breaches: Rotorua councillor Reynold Macpherson removed from committees

6:49 am on 10 February 2022

Rotorua district councillor Reynold Macpherson has been removed from two council committees after failing to apologise for code of conduct breaches.

Rotorua district councillor Reynold Macpherson.

Rotorua district councillor Reynold Macpherson. Photo: File / Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

Macpherson says he does not regret his actions nor lack of apology as, in his view, he "told the truth" in the social media posts the code of conduct complaints centred on.

However, Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick has said the outcome was Macpherson's choice and code of conduct complaints were not what she wanted to spend time or money on.

Investigations into the latest five of 12 complaints against Macpherson have cost ratepayers almost $46,000.

An investigation into the other complaints, in 2020, cost ratepayers almost $60,000 and also resulted in the council asking Macpherson to apologise, which he refused.

Macpherson was removed from the Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee and Operations and Monitoring Committee, which feed recommendations to the full council for consideration. As an elected councillor, Macpherson cannot be removed from the council table.

On Tuesday, Macpherson said he would watch the committee meetings and would continue to get answers to questions at full council meetings and using official information law means.

He would also continue to comment on council matters via social media, he said.

"They can't remove me from the council so I will still get to speak there and vote, which is where it really matters."

He did not expect to be able to attend public-excluded parts of committee meetings, but believed he would still be included in public-excluded parts of full council meetings - something he said in his opinion "makes a nonsense of the sanctions".

Macpherson said in his view including the committee's confidential forums in the ban was "trickery to impose secrecy" and an example of Chadwick's "unreasonable overreach".

Macpherson said he "told the truth" in the social media posts that elicited the complaints and "didn't do anything that remotely justifies an apology".

He claimed four councillors did not support the decision to remove him from the committees, who he identified as Tania Tapsell, Sandra Kai Fong, Peter Bentley and Raj Kumar.

The council clarified Tapsell did vote in favour of the sanctions and Bentley was not present at the meeting.

Kai Fong and Kumar abstained, according to the released minutes of the meeting.

Macpherson said he refused to be "bullied, blackmailed or intimidated by the mayor and her friends" as a "matter of principle".

In his opinion: "They are trying to stop me from criticising them to stay in power. There is no point in me being on those committees if I am not allowed to freely express myself - I have only engaged in normal political discourse which the current regime finds intolerable because it threatens their temporary grip on power. In my view, the whole process was a sham - a political hit job."

He claimed the Audit and Risk Committee independent chairman Wallace Bain "didn't even invite me to a meeting in November where they recommended that I be removed from these committees".

"I provided detailed written responses to every complaint, none of which were taken into account by this committee. I notified all the elected members of all this before they made their decision."

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick. Photo: File / Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

The council organisation and mayor Steve Chadwick did not wish to respond to Macpherson's latest comments.

On 28 January, in a letter Local Democracy Reporting has obtained, Chadwick wrote to Macpherson confirming his removal from the committees.

In the letter, she also extended it to forums related to the committees - something that was not included in the original council decision.

In a council statement on the same day, Chadwick said Macpherson had chosen the outcome by not apologising and had "removed himself from the committees".

She said the process had been "fair and robust" but Macpherson chose not to engage with it.

"This outcome is his choice ... He had options he chose not to take and like it or not, we all agreed to a code of conduct.

In her opinion: "Elected members have a responsibility, to their colleagues and the people they represent, to be at the decision-making table but it appears Councillor Macpherson prefers to be on the outside."

She said elected members could disagree and robust discussions could always find a middle ground.

"We didn't have that opportunity here because Cr Macpherson chose to not engage in the process.

"This is not the type of thing we want to be spending time and resources on. There are many important matters that we need to be working on and progressing for the benefit of our community and that's certainly where the focus remains for myself and other elected members."

Macpherson's possible removal from council committees was signalled in December when the council voted to request Macpherson apologise for the code breaches, stating if he did not comply with its requests he would be removed from the committees.

It followed an independent investigation into the complaints, which were mostly related to social media posts by Macpherson.

Investigators Equip found he had breached the code of conduct under the principles of collective responsibility, respect and integrity and honesty.

In its report, Equip suggested the complaints were "symptomatic of ongoing and unrelenting behaviour directed at staff and peers".

Rotorua Lakes Council district leadership and democracy deputy chief executive Oonagh Hopkins.

Rotorua Lakes Council district leadership and democracy deputy chief executive Oonagh Hopkins. Photo: File / Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

On Wednesday, council district leadership and democracy deputy chief executive Oonagh Hopkins confirmed Macpherson would not be permitted to attend public-excluded parts of the committees and only committee members could attend confidential forums for the committees.

Macpherson's removal from the committees follows a public-excluded council decision on 16 December where councillors considered recommendations from Audit and Risk, which commissioned the independent investigation.

The investigation considered three complaints, including a further two as an addendum.

The Audit and Risk Committee did not seek further investigation into two others as it determined sanctions and remedies for the three main complaints would cover the additional ones, according to a 16 December council statement.

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