A feud has split the trust responsible for the protection of the Moriori culture, after its general manager refused to leave his position despite being suspended.
Moriori expert Maui Solomon was suspended at the end of August by Hokotehi Moriori Trust executive chairwoman Shirley King.
But he refused to acknowledge the suspension, arguing that Ms King was no longer a valid trustee after an election process and had no right to instigate disciplinary proceedings against him.
He continued to act as general manager despite his pay being cut off.
He took his case to the Employment Relations Authority, which ordered his immediate reinstatement.
The trust owns and manages Chatham Island assets including fishing quotas, farms and a tourist lodge.
In her decision, authority member Trish MacKinnon said Mr Solomon had been in charge of managing elections for two trustee positions in the South Island and one on Rekohu, or Chatham Island, the main island. On August 18, Mr Solomon emailed trustees informing them of the Rekohu election result, in which Ms King lost her place on the board.
But three days later Ms King emailed all trustees minutes before the overall elections closed, stating new elections would be held as the initial process was flawed. Furious, Mr Solomon told trustees elections could not be cancelled because "they did not like the results".
Trust members who supported Ms King then held a meeting and wrote to Mr Solomon saying he had been working to undermine the trust, and suspending him on pay while an investigation into electioneering was undertaken.
Mr Solomon was given four hours to respond to the letter, which was later extended to 24 hours. The suspension was then confirmed.
Ms MacKinnon said the trust board had split into two factions, one side favouring Ms King - which included her sister, daughter and two cousins - the other siding with Mr Solomon.
She said that though the trust as an employer was entitled to investigate issues, it was clear the decision to get rid of Mr Solomon was predetermined. Giving him only four hours to respond to such a serious matter was "puzzling", she said.
Ms King admitted she held strong feelings of anger towards Mr Solomon, who raised issues about her performance last year. She said Mr Solomon had "trampled on my mana" after telling people she was no longer a trustee or executive chairwoman.
Ms MacKinnon ordered Mr Solomon's immediate reinstatement and awarded him $8000 in compensation.
Mr Solomon told The Dominion Post he was happy with the decision. The rift within the trust had affected its smooth operation but he was reluctant to comment further till an annual meeting next month that would address the problems.
"[The trust] is a pretty important organisation for the Chathams, so it's important it's business as usual, though this situation's like an elephant sitting in the corridor."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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