Laws report complete but under wraps

Michael Laws
Michael Laws
If the complaint against him is upheld, councillors around New Zealand will be gagged from publicly criticising staff, Otago regional councillor Michael Laws says.

The Otago Regional Council confirmed an independent investigator’s report into a code of conduct complaint against Cr Laws was now complete.

But this week it declined to provide the report to the Otago Daily Times.

It would not confirm whether the report would be made public by the time councillors discussed it.

"Although the independent investigation is complete, the council’s code of conduct process is still under way, so we cannot provide the report at this stage," council chairman Andrew Noone said.

Neither he nor a council spokesman who issued the statement would answer further questions this week.

Cr Laws said the council’s code of conduct made it clear investigators’ reports were to be discussed in a public meeting.

There were normal exceptions provided for under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987, he said.

But issues such as privacy of natural persons or commercial confidentiality did not apply in this case.

"There are such wide-ranging sanctions that can be imposed upon an elected member that it would be wrong for any other course to be followed.

"I believe the council’s legal advice will support that view.

"The chief executive has levelled some very serious allegations.

"So this complaint has massive implications for all elected members throughout local government.

"If it is upheld, councillors will be made publicly mute in discussing staff errors, omissions and wrongdoings."

The council has not yet confirmed the basis of the complaint, but Cr Laws said last month the complaint was in relation to comments he made about council staff in two stories in the ODT in July.

In a July 21 story on illegal dumping into the Clutha River, he said it was "extraordinarily embarrassing" the council appeared to have advised a company to do something it later took enforcement action over.

He also said he was unhappy with the council staff’s lack of transparency on the matter.

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

The council’s code of conduct says on receipt of the investigator’s report, the chief executive will prepare a report for councillors, who will consider the findings and determine whether a penalty or some other form of action will be imposed.

The chief executive’s report will include the full report prepared by the investigator, the code says.

In the case of material breaches of the code, councillors could impose a range of punishments, including a request for an apology, a vote of no confidence in the member, restricted entry to council offices, limitation on dealings with council staff, suspension, or an invitation to consider resigning, the code says.

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz

Comments

How independent was the investigation? Is this a set up by the Executive? Whatever, it is a disgraceful use of our 72 percent rate rise! We have the right to know. If Laws is right, Gardener should go!

Disgusting of the ORC management. I am not a fan of Laws but in this case he is right. His criticism is fair.

In local government it is the role of the Chief Executive as an employee of Council to serve the Council. It is not their role to sensure Councillors opinions or political comments or try to cover up mistakes made by Council staff which appears to have occurred in this case? A Chief Executive interfereing in the role of Elected Members is very serious as it has implications on the safety of the democratic process. Executives who embark on this path should be delt with quickly by Councillors and removed.

Laws has a reputation for trying to catch the media's eye. He seems to thrive on controversy- a bit like Lee Vandervis.
It is time wasting, unproductive and an expensive use of OUR money.
He was also heard to say he was not interested in public transport, one of the the ORC's important responsibities

 

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