Labour-linked group backtracks on 'Trumpian' move to oust Christchurch board chair

Alexandra Davids. Photo: File
Alexandra Davids. Photo: File
A Labour-linked political group has backtracked on a move to unseat a Christchurch community board chairwoman after being accused of dirty politics and Trump-style tactics.

The People's Choice, the left-leaning political group with ties to Labour which contests local body-elections in Christchurch, planned to remove Alexandra Davids, an independent, from the role of chairwoman after gaining a majority on the Linwood-Central-Heathcote Community Board.

The People's Choice members, Jake McLellan, Yani Johanson, Michelle Lomax, Jackie Simons and Sunita Gautam, signed a letter to Christchurch City Council chief executive Dawn Baxendale requesting a meeting be scheduled to consider the removal of the board’s current chairwoman.

This came less than a month after Gautam was elected to the community board in a by-election, which was held to fill the vacancy left by long-serving board member Sally Buck who died in September. This gave the group a majority of five around the table of nine.

Yani Johanson. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Yani Johanson. Photo: Geoff Sloan
The board was set to vote on the matter on November 30, but in a joint statement released from the group on Thursday, it states that after "careful consideration" it has now decided to withdraw its request for a vote to take place.

Said Johanson: "We are committed to working with our fellow elected community board members together to resolve our differences and move forward addressing issues of concern including greater transparency, improved community responsiveness, and united leadership.”

Lomax said she and her colleagues from The People's Choice signed the letter to the chief executive because they were concerned about the process of how Davids was appointed as chairwoman.

An emergency meeting was called using Covid-19 powers to appoint a chair before the impending by-election. One of the board members was an essential worker and was unable to attend.

Jake McLellan. Photo: File
Jake McLellan. Photo: File
McLellan said while although members of the The People's Choice abstained from voting from the earlier process because they did not agree with it, they now realised the best way forward was through collaborative and constructive methods.

Davids said while she was feeling relieved the whole ordeal had come to an end, she was still disappointed it had arisen in the first place.

"I do feel a sense of disappointment that all of our communities had to go through this, it has been quite a widely covered issue across the city and there have been a lot of people that have been hurt by this," she said.

"I hope we can just move on and work towards making our communities a better place again."

She said there would be no sour grapes on her part and hoped it would be the same case for her fellow board members.

"First and foremost we are here to represent the community, if there are any ill feelings, we need to just get over it and on with the job we are supposed to be doing." 

Chris Lynch.
Chris Lynch.
The decision to backtrack on the move to oust Davids from the helm of the community board comes after the political group received a considerable amount of criticism from the community and high profile figures such as former Mayor Garry Moore and radio host Chris Lynch.

Lynch even referred to The People's Choice as a "bunch of bastards" during one of his shows.

Two letters had also been sent to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office expressing concern about what was labelled “morally appalling” behaviour by The People's Choice members on the board.

Greg Partridge who sent one of the letters to Ardern described this as a “purely politically driven” move. Hayley Guglietta who wrote the second letter said there was no place for this kind of behaviour in local body politics.

Darrell Latham, who sits on the community board as an independent, previously told The Star he thought the move to oust Davids was "Trumpian" and a betrayal of the mantra of kindness preached by Labour leader Ardern.

"I think The People's Choice members of the board should listen to what their leader is saying and be kind," he said.

Sara Templeton. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Sara Templeton. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Sara Templeton, a city councillor who sits on the community board as an independent, did not think removing Davids from the role of chairwoman would be in the best interests of the communities the board serves.

"There is no doubt they [The People's Choice] have the numbers, but I don't agree that this would be best for the communities we serve," she said.

Tim Lindley, another independent on the community board, thought this was a case of party politics at its worst.

McLellan previously defended the move as democratic.

"This is democracy, anyone who says otherwise does not know what they are talking about.

"The community has given us a mandate to fulfil our agenda and that is what we are trying to do."

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