Laws may face ORC discipline

Otago Regional Council deputy chairman Michael Laws. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Otago Regional Council deputy chairman Michael Laws. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Media comments about council staff have landed Otago Regional Council deputy chairman Michael Laws in hot water and could see him lose his leadership role.

A code of conduct complaint was lodged by council chief executive Sarah Gardner on August 16 and an investigation is ongoing into whether Cr Laws breached the code.

Cr Laws said the complaint was in regards to comments he made about council staff in two stories that ran in the Otago Daily Times in July of this year.

In a July 21 story on illegal dumping into the Clutha River he said it was "extraordinarily embarrassing" that the council had given advice to a company that it later took enforcement action against for dumping construction waste in the river.

He also said he was unhappy with a lack of transparency between council staff and councillors.

In a July 23 story about a report on public submissions on flow scenarios for the Manuherikia River, Cr Laws said he was annoyed staff had released the report which he described as "bogus" and "crap".

"It is in relationship to both those articles that the allegation of endangering regional council staff psychologically and physically has been made by the chief executive," Cr Laws said.

An independent investigation was ordered with Wellington lawyer Steph Dyhrberg selected to carry out the investigation.

Last night a council spokesperson said out of respect for process and natural justice, it would not be appropriate to comment at this point.

Cr Laws said the potential consequences of the complaint were quite serious.

Punishments could include losing his deputy chairman role, being excluded from council committees, receiving a public censure from his council colleagues, or being barred from entering the council’s offices for a period.

"I think that would have a very chilling impact on freedom of speech and expression upon representatives being able to represent their constituents and also hold to account staff when errors and wrongdoing is done."

He said he stood by the comments he made previously.

"I wouldn’t change a word, a comma, or a preposition.

"Everything that I said I believe, I believed and I now know to be true."

He said it was his general view that codes of conduct were "stupid", and restricted elected members from freely and robustly expressing their views and representing their constituents.

"I’ve always had that view. I had it as mayor when I was back in Whanganui and I was subject to a code of conduct investigation then, and I have the same view 15 years later."

Mr Laws said that staff already had sufficient protection through other legislation such as defamation laws, the Bill of Rights, and the Local Government Act.

Once the investigation is complete, a report will be presented to the council and be discussed at a future council meeting.

Council chairman Andrew Noone confirmed there was an ongoing independent investigation into a code of conduct complaint, but declined to comment until the investigation was complete.

"You’ve got to respect natural justice here in terms of the parties so I can’t say any more than that but the process will be completed in the very near future and reported back to council."



View all

He is right thou. There is a duty of care and case law about giving advice on behalf of the council. As for the Manuherikia that has been a council embarrassment for several years. The anger towards staff centres around management ineptitude and the frivolous millions spent each year rather than Laws. This council is simply the worst in the south island to engage with

Councillor Laws is quite correct in bringing to ratepayers attention serious failures of ORC staff and Executive. In my opinion over the last four years ORC has blundered from one disaster to the next! Failure to meet statutory responsibilities; Ministerial intervention and the threat of Council being removed and replaced with Commissioners; the loss of senior and experienced staff. To cap all of this a 72% increase in rates with another 18% pending next year. Ratepayers must remember that most Councillors are like themselves, they are not environmental or legal experts; they rely on guidance and leadership from Councils Executive. In this case ORC has an incompetent group of alleged leaders who have not provided leadership and have created a toxic environment for all. These people need to be urgently replaced!

It seems that there's always one Councillor who makes rude, inappropriate comments that get them right up a creek without a paddle ... Cr Laws being one of them, and I've written a couple of comments on the negative side about him before.

That said, Pinkney and Sirius are on the money ... Cr Laws says it like it is and when h uses some colourful language to get his point across, it tends to rub some people , especially his own council members, up the wrong way. Frustration at stating the obvious and having it rejected over and over maybe ??

The only thing is, it's not only an ORC problem, it seems endemic to any and all councils ... there's the old school brigade v practical man ... and maybe even a woman every now and then :-)

Chill out, take a pill, brown, red, white ... doesn't make much difference ... and just be happy you're not stuck in Auckland !!

I think the biggest risk to Regional Council staff’s psychological health stems from the poor and confused leadership of the management. Go for it Cr Laws, expose this “House of Cards” for what it is and bring it down.

I support Cr Laws on this and believe me are not natural allies. This same CEO has made public comments that I believe to be most unwise and find it incredible. She fails to deliver to a standard the Council requires and whinges about it when criticised. She is not even close to being held to the same level of public account as the councillors are and fails to recognise she is employed by them and responsible to them.

Ray has hit the nail on the head. This CEO suffers from a serious delusion of adequacy and falls far short of the mark for her six figure salary. The Council needs to give serious thought to finding someone who can do the job. The incumbent has so far failed!

And who is paying for this farce? The long-suffering ratepayer obviously.

Ms Gardener is being unbelievably precious and, rather than wasting ratepayer money, should simply resign. This sort of extreme thin-skinned behaviour is one of the costs of so-called diversity.

Oh really? Can someone, ANYONE, involved with the ORC please be the adult?

View all