18 May 2016

Councillors restricted from council offices

7:59 pm on 18 May 2016

Wellington city councillors are being locked out of staff areas after allegations of one councillor riffling through papers, and another giving staff a hard time.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown Photo: SUPPLIED / WCC

Some councillors said those actions breached the code of conduct and they were angry at being lumped in with those who broke the rules.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown emailed the councillors nearly a week ago telling them the chief executive had revised the guidelines, and their contact with staff and access throughout the building would now be limited.

The email also said permission would need to be sought before dealing with staff.

She said the measures were "appropriate in light of recent issues and as we head into elections".

But some councillors said the rules were unprecedented, and reflected the mayor's inability to lead.

Councillor Paul Eagle said it was a draconian, gutless measure.

"This is a passive-aggressive attempt by the mayor where instead of punishing the individuals, she's punishing everyone," he said.

"Unfortunately, I see this now as the chief executive using this as an opportunity to muzzle the elected membership."

RNZ News has heard from multiple councillors and staff members who believed a councillor had riffled through papers on a staff member's desk.

RNZ has also received an email sent by Onslow-Western ward councillor Simon Woolf criticising a staff member.

In the email, Mr Woolf told all 14 elected members, the chief executive and four staff members he had lost confidence in the staff member, and that their numerous mistakes should be treated as an employment issue.

Councillor Helene Ritchie said the email breached the trust the council needed to work effectively, and opened the door to a personal grievance.

"I looked at it and thought there are very serious implications with that, there are probably legal implications, and it is not appropriate for a councillor to act in that way," she said.

Mr Woolf said he did not know the email was also addressed to staff members, and said the mayor had called him into her office because of it.

"She said that I should be careful as to circulating emails of that nature, but she also was very clear that there was no code of conduct violation," he said.

Nicola Young - wants Kate Sheppard lights to stay

Photo: RNZ / Teresa Cowie

"The CEO brought it up with me and said there may be [a code of conduct violation] but I had legal advice to say there wasn't."

In this term, elected members have also leaked confidential, commercially sensitive information to members of the public and to the media.

Councillor Nicola Young said because the mayor and the chief executive had effectively failed to deal with those breaches, there were no consequences for bad behaviour.

"She's not dealing with it at all, we know there have been some breaches and nothing is being done about the councillors who are alleged to have misbehaved," she said.

"Instead we're all being disciplined which is ridiculous.

"We need some leadership in Wellington, and that's why there are so many mayoral candidates for the elections," she said.

"There is no leadership at the moment."

Wellington mayoral candidates Justin Lester, Jo Coughlan, Nicola Young, and the incumbent Celia Wade-Brown.

Wellington mayoral candidates Justin Lester, Jo Coughlan, Nicola Young, and the incumbent Celia Wade-Brown. Photo: Wellington City Council / RNZ

Mr Eagle said the mayor needed to be investigating the accusations of riffling, leaking and criticisms of staff.

Ms Wade-Brown maintained she was dealing with those accusations appropriately.

She said her office had not received any complaints about a councillor rummaging through a staff member's desk, but said she has had several councillors in her office for code of conduct issues since she became mayor in 2010.

"My dealings with the individual members of the council are private," she said.

"I don't leak conversations and I would prefer that all of the elected members abided by the code of conduct."

Ms Wade-Brown would not say whether she had dealt directly with any of the councillors involved.

"I think it speaks directly to the honesty of some of the council members," she said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs