Waikato regional councillors have been accused of rewarding a rebel councillor for helping roll their former chair Russ Rimmington.
Councillors today reinstated Fred Lichtwark his full rights, three weeks after his vote secured the 8-6 sacking of Rimmington.
The council had received legal advice that Lichtwark should not have voted and Rimmington is now taking legal action against the council and the Raglan-based councillor.
Today the same councillors who rolled Rimmington backed Lichtwark’s reinstatement.
Pamela Storey, who made the original bullying allegations about Lichtwark in November 2020, suggested his reinstatement was linked to the rolling of the chair.
“The heart of this issue is there is no protection for councillors against aggressive and threatening behaviour by another councillor. The only protection on offer comes at the whim of other councillors. And that protection, if it is offered at all, can easily be removed if it serves a political purpose, such as securing the numbers to roll a chair,” she told the council.
“Politics supersedes the safety and wellbeing of members of the public, staff and other councillors.”
Storey claimed today Lichtwark stood over her on March 31 this year when they both arrived at the regional council’s headquarters in Hamilton.
“Being alone in the carpark with Fred, I wasn’t prepared to exit my vehicle as my previous interactions with Cr Lichtwark have proven that this would be an unsafe situation.”
Lichtwark was suspended in February last year from all committees, subcommittees and other representative roles following an independent investigation by former Hamilton mayor, lawyer Julie Hardaker, but allowed to attend and vote at council meetings.
Hardaker concluded Lichtwark demonstrated “threatening and aggressive behaviour” when he approached Storey, his fellow Waikato constituency member, in a Huntly carpark in November 2020.
Lichtwark’s original suspension rolled over in September last year when he did not complete all remedial actions which included apologising to Storey.
In debate today Lichtwark did apologise, repeatedly to councillors.
“I am very sorry to Pamela that she is so upset,” he said.
In a notice of motion, deputy chair Kataraina Hodge (Ngā Tai ki Uta) said it was time to reinstate Lichtwark.
Storey and Waihou councillors Hugh Vercoe and Stu Husband opposed the reinstatement.
The notice of motion carried 10-3 with Rimmington abstaining and Stu Kneebone, Andrew MacPherson, Tipa Mahuta, Jennifer Nickel, Barry Quayle, Angela Strange, Denis Tegg, Lichtwark, Hodge and White voting to allow Lichtwark back.
In her statement, Storey said Lichtwark’s behaviour this term had resulted in five official complaints from members of staff, two official complaints from members of the public and official complaints from fellow councillors.
“Despite the decision for sanctions put in place by this Council on 11 Feb 2021 and relitigated on 30 Sept 2021, Cl Lichtwark’s threatening and abusive behaviour has not changed.”
Eleven days later MacPherson, who represents Waipa-King Country on the council, asked for Lichtwark to be brought back into council.
Strange, who is married to Labour MP Jamie Strange and represents Hamilton, said she’d welcome Lichtwark back but that they needed to agree to be “nicer to each other” and councillors needed to hold each other to account for bad behaviour, said Storey.
“Yet immediately after those statements, Cl Lichtwark proceeded to shout at Barry (Quayle) in this very chamber, saying “I feel sorry for you if I ever meet you alone in a dark alley”. A clear threat, by Cl Lichtwark, on another councillor; a threat of the same treatment that I had experienced at the hands of Cl Lichtwark.
“And yet, was Cl Lichtwark checked for his behaviour? Did any councillors speak up and hold Cl Lichtwark to account for threatening another councillor? No.
“This threat was clearly heard by nine councillors and two staff members. And yet no one said a thing.
“And following that meeting, I received yet another abusive text from Cl Lichtwark.
“Why is this behaviour by Cl Lichtwark considered acceptable?”
Storey said when councillors debated Lichtwark’s behaviour in September last year, Hodge told the meeting: “Pamela, if Fred had done that to me, I would have just smacked him.”
“Now surely the leaders of this council wouldn’t advocate that issues between councillors should be settled with physical violence. Physical violence shouldn’t be advocated for in any place in our communities…let alone endorsed as part of the culture at Waikato Regional Council.”
MacPherson and his Waipa-King Country colleague Stu Kneebone recently wrote a column about good governance being about “holding …governors to account.”
“I would assume that if good governance was paramount, there would be no way they would support or endorse the behaviour of Cl Lichtwark, who repeatedly and unrepentantly, bullies, harasses and threatens members of the public, staff and fellow councillors,” she said.
“If you support this motion, you are sending a resounding message to our staff, potential staff, councillors, potential councillors, and our communities, that you personally are happy to endorse repeated, unrepentant, unapologetic aggression, harassment, and threatening behaviour in this workplace,” said Storey.
“I, will not, put my name to a motion that implicitly implies and condones endorsement of that culture in this organisation.”