Rangitane silent on staff, leaving iwi members in the dark

Rangitane House, in central Blenheim. The iwi has had a divisive year.
RICKY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Rangitane House, in central Blenheim. The iwi has had a divisive year.

A divided Marlborough iwi, which has had a troubled year, is declining to say if two staff members have been stood down. 

It is understood Rangitane O Wairau general manager Liz McElhinney and communications manager Keelan Walker are no longer at work, and development manager Richard Bradley is also away on sick leave. 

Divisions in the trust became public last year, after a trustee was taken to court by Heritage New Zealand for allegedly interfering with an archaeological site. 

A fraught election campaign leading up to elections in February also led to lawyers being called in. 

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Staff were reportedly locked out of the building after the provisional election results were announced, but chairwoman Wendy Hynes said the office was only closed temporarily. 

Former Marlborough District Council chief executive Andrew Besley said on Tuesday he was now interim manager at Rangitane. 

Walker and McElhinney declined to comment on the situation, and Bradley could not be reached for comment. 

Rangitane member and election candidate Riki Palatchie said the trust had not given iwi members information about what was happening. 

"I don't know all the facts, however two of the staff still have not yet returned to work for reasons that have not been given to iwi members.

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"Many of our whanau feel they are left in the dark and are uncertain about the future," he said. 

Chairwoman Wendy Hynes said employment issues were confidential and declined to comment.

The trust hit the headlines last year following a rift when three trustees were accused of failing to sign off documents relating to the transfer of Marlborough Boys' College. 

Tensions also rose to the surface when trustee and Te Pa Wines owner Haysley MacDonald and his father Phillip were charged by Heritage New Zealand with modifying land near a possible archaeological site. 

The MacDonalds agreed to make a donation of $15,000 to the organisation, and to commission an archaeological report on their property, and HNZ formally withdrew charges against them last month. 

It was revealed last week HNZ spent $32,000 on the case against the MacDonalds, which former chairwoman Tarina MacDonald said felt like a "slap in the face". 

For HNZ to spend about $32,000 bringing a prosecution against the MacDonalds in return for a settlement of $15,000 and an archaeological survey made no sense, she said.

An attempt to vet candidates standing for the trust election on their knowledge of tikanga Maori was halted after an injunction halting the election process was filed in the High Court late last year. 

The parties resolved their election issues out of court. 

 - The Marlborough Express

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