Altercation alleged at West Coast Regional Council

5:34 pm on 8 May 2023
Calm before the storm: The freshly inducted West Coast Regional Council in October with from left, Andy Campbell, Peter Ewen, Peter Haddock, Allan Birchfield, Frank Dooley, Mark McIntyre, and Brett Cummings.

The West Coast Regional Council following its induction in October 2022 with Frank Dooley, front, second from right and Allan Birchfield back, second from right. Photo: Greymouth Star / Brendon McMahon via LDR

Things are heating up at the West Coast Regional Council with allegations of an altercation during a council subcommittee meeting on Friday.

Former chairman Allan Birchfield on Monday said he was considering his options, including laying a complaint with police against councillor Frank Dooley for allegedly trying to forcibly remove him from the meeting room before the Remuneration and Employment Subcommittee convened to recruit a new chief executive.

Dooley, who was chairing the subcommittee meeting, would not be drawn on Monday on the alleged incident.

"Allan does what he wants. That's not a concern of mine... he's a brave man," was all he would say.

Birchfield on Sunday filed a complaint with council chairperson, Peter Haddock, detailing his version of events of the Friday altercation, and blaming him for not controlling the situation.

Allan Birchfield.

Allan Birchfield Photo: Greymouth Star / Brendon McMahon

He claimed he had been deliberately excluded from the appointment panel made up of the other six councillors, plus West Coast iwi.

Dooley declined on Monday to specify to Local Democracy Reporting how the panel was made up to interview candidates for the job -- the council's fourth chief executive in three years.

"Dooley excluded me but he didn't tell me. I suspected what was going on," Birchfield said Monday.

He said he was sitting when Dooley arrived in the room and "took exception" to his presence.

"He caused quite a scene... he tried to tear the papers out of my hand. There was a scuffle."

However, it was not a 'punch up,' Birchfield said.

"(It) was out of control."

Birchfield remained seated throughout.

"I was knocked around when he tried to get the papers out of my hand."

Birchfield agreed it "doesn't look good for the council".

But he said the selection of the new chief executive was ultimately for all councillors to agree, with the panel only having the power to recommend.

"I'm an elected member. All the people who voted for me would want me to be part of the employment selection process.

"I wasn't going anywhere anyway. I took part in the selection process. Frank apologised."

Birchfield wrote to Haddock that his exclusion from the process was "not lawful" and his endorsement of that showed "poor judgment on your part".

He alleged the resulting incident was a breach of council rules of conduct.

"As chairman of the WCRC, you have a duty to maintain order in council meetings and your failure to intervene... shows a lack of fortitude on your part and I question your suitability to chair the council," Birchfield wrote.

He also questioned Dooley's role with any council committee.

Notwithstanding the apology, he said Dooley's "disgraceful behaviour" made him unfit to chair any committee of council.

"I also question his suitability to represent the people of Buller," Birchfield said.

While most councillors, including the council's chairperson, Peter Haddock, declined to comment on the matter, two spoke off the record to Local Democracy Reporting.

They confirmed there had been an altercation between Dooley and Birchfield.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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