Mayor says attack goes way too far

"Frankly I don't care."

LEIGHTON KEITH
Last updated 05:00 24/01/2013
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ROBERT CHARLES
New Plymouth Mayor Harry Duynhoven
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New Plymouth's Mayor, Harry Duynhoven, says controversial councillor Sherril George has gone way too far with her public attack on council manager Cathy Thurston.

Ms George, however, remains unrepentant.

"I'm standing by my actions with two feet firmly on the ground," she said.

A letter in Tuesday's Taranaki Daily News from Ms George said a "small person with a big ego" was the common thread in the three-high profile resignations from the New Plymouth District Council recently. The letter did not directly name Ms Thurston.

Chief executive Barbara McKerrow told the Taranaki Daily News the letter was a clear attack on the community services general manager and a breach of the councillors' code of conduct, which prevents them from publicly criticising council employees.

Mr Duynhoven said there was no doubt Ms George had breached the code of conduct and messages he had received indicated she had "once again gone way too far".

"Every councillor with a brain believes that," he said.

"I couldn't imagine there would be a single councillor, who is familiar with the standing orders, who is familiar with the declaration they signed when they came into council, that wouldn't be appalled at what Sherril has done."

He would be taking advice from colleagues before deciding what action to take.

"Then I'll put some thoughts of mine before council as to how we deal with continued appalling behaviour and an apparent lack of any sense of wishing to abide by the code of conduct."

He said the council would decide if there had been a breach of the code of conduct and if so, what action would be taken.

However, the only punishment available for breaching the code was to reduce a councillor's workload. Mr Duynhoven pushed for the power to cut pay or ban "destructive" councillors from meetings last year when he told a select committee looking at local government reform that councils needed the ability to more effectively censure politicians who failed to toe the line.

In 2011, Ms George was stripped of four council positions as punishment for her attempt to organise a boycott against a Cambodian-owned business, Town and Country Foods, in Waitara.

Last year, the council's legal bills, to deal with a breach of the code by John "Horse" McLeod, totalled about $60,000.

Mr McLeod resigned from all of his council responsibilities minutes before his code of conduct hearing last year.

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Mr Duynhoven was keen to avoid similar costs this time around, saying it was a complete waste of time and money.

He said that although it was a difficult situation, he believed he had the backing of the council.

"The entire council is utterly fed up with this sort of behaviour.

"It is unprofessional, it is attention-seeking and, to be really blunt, it brings into question the ability of the person to actually conduct themselves as a councillor in a way which is professional and serves the people of the district."

Ms George said she had been contacted by members of the community who were pleased to see information about the resignations coming out and she was not concerned about a code of conduct hearing.

"This is just Harry waving his big stick around trying to be headmaster and put people into place.

"Frankly I don't care.

"Harry doesn't tell me what I do, the people of the New Plymouth district tell me what I do and at the moment they are saying: go for it," she said. "Considering Harry and his entourage have managed to strip me of anything that I have in council, they can't take anything else away."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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