'Perverse, fractious' councillor stays away

Censure move decided in councillor's absence

ISOBEL EWING
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2013
george stand
Councillor Sherril George declined to appear as the NPDC monitoring committee considered her fate.

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Councillor Sherril George did not bother attending a meeting called to discuss a council code of conduct complaint against her.

The New Plymouth District Council monitoring committee yesterday ruled that Ms George had breached the council's code over what mayor Harry Duynhoven described as an attack on a senior manager.

The renegade councillor was not present at the hearing and had indicated she did not wish to attend and or to make a statement.

The committee recommended the full council censure Ms George and remove her from four council roles, including her seat on its policy committee.

Councillor Shaun Biesiek argued that removing Ms George from the policy committee and other roles was going too far.

"Lessening a councillor's workload as a punishment? That's hilarious. I don't see it as a major breach personally."

The committee found that a letter Ms George wrote to the Taranaki Daily News last week breached the code.

In it, she wrote that a "small person with a big ego" was the common thread in three senior management resignations at the council.

Mr Biesiek said the public in general would not have known who Ms George was talking about.

But Phil Quinney said Ms George's description of a "senior officer" in the letter amounted to a a public criticism of a fellow council staff member and was therefore a breach of the code of conduct.

"Even if there was some confusion as to who she was referring to, that is irrelevant."

Monitoring committee chairman Craig McFarlane said it was clear to anyone acquainted with general manager community services Cathy Thurston that it was she to whom Ms George was referring.

Mr McFarlane said the committee agreed Ms George breached the code of conduct by publicly criticising an employee in her letter to the editor.

"The code specifically states that councillors should avoid doing this and also that we should raise concerns about employees only with the chief executive, who is the employer of all NPDC staff."

He said Ms George had every opportunity to discuss her concerns with the chief executive but chose not to, instead using a letter to the Taranaki Daily News to make her views known.

All local authorities are required to adopt a code of conduct under the Local Government Act 2002, and all elected members are required to comply with it.

"The code's aim is not to limit free speech but to set a standard for the manner in which councillors should conduct themselves while acting in their capacity as elected members."

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Several committee members said Ms George appeared to disregard the obligations for councillors laid out in the code of conduct.

"She tends to forget she has signed up to the rules," Marie Pearce said. "History suggests she has not learnt from the past.

"She is perverse and fractious in her attitude to staff and authority, which is clearly demonstrated by her letter to the editor," Alex Matheson said.

The Taranaki Daily News was unable to contact Ms George for comment.

The full council will consider the committee's recommendation at its next meeting.

- Taranaki Daily News

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