Councillors could boot Timms

EVAN HARDING
Last updated 05:00 14/12/2012
'LACK OF JUDGEMENT' Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms.
JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ
'LACK OF JUDGEMENT' Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms.

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Environment Southland councillors have the power to strip Ali Timms of her chairmanship duties when they hold a meeting to discuss her behaviour next month.

Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said councillors elected to regional councils then elected the chairperson. That was unlike local bodies in which the mayor was elected by the public.

"Ali was voted in by her [councillor] peers as chairman of the council, so they have got the power to vote her out," Mr Yule said yesterday.

"She can only stay there while she has got the confidence of the people around the table."

Environment Southland councillors plan a special meeting in late January and it appears likely a vote of no confidence in Ms Timms will be held at the meeting.

If axed and replaced as chairman by another councillor, Ms Timms will remain on Environment Southland as a councillor only.

Ms Timms was this week outed for making a hoax phone call to a Cue television talkback show last Wednesday.

Pretending to be a struggling mother of two called Ruby whose partner had been laid off at Tiwai, she repeatedly grilled Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt about the city council's funding of the Auckland-to-Bluff Yacht race during the live television show. Her call has been widely condemned by Environment Southland and Invercargill City councillors.

Environment Southland councillors held a closed-doors meeting on Wednesday to discuss her actions, later announcing that Ms Timms would be taking six weeks paid leave, effective immediately.

They told The Southland Times after the meeting that Ms Timms had been given the opportunity to step down during the two-hour meeting but she indicated she would not be doing so.

Four of the regional councillors, had wanted her to stand down. But most councillors - understood to be six - voted that she take the paid leave before next month's meeting that is expected to decide her fate.

Mr Yule said it was "not a good look" for one politician to ring another politician on a television programme, not identify themselves, and then ask searching questions.

The only precedent he could recall was when in 1995 then Far North MP John Carter phoned into a talkback radio show, hosted by fellow National MP John Banks, impersonating a work-shy Maori called Hone. It caused widespread offence and Mr Carter was sacked as the party's Whip.

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Environment Southland communications boss Michele Poole said the date of next month's meeting to determine Ms Timms' fate was undecided.

While councillors had the power to strip Ms Timms of the chairmanship, they could not remove her as a councillor. "Also, there is no specific power for the council to force an elected member to take a particular action, for example to apologise," Ms Poole said.

SHE NEEDS SUPPORT - COCKBURN

An Environment Southland councillor who went to Timms' home for the council's Christmas party on Wednesday night said she appeared to be holding up OK.

Ms Timms has not answered calls from The Southland Times since she was outed this week for making a hoax phone call to a Cue television talkback show.

Environment Southland councillor Ross Cockburn, who went to the staff and councillor Christmas party, said it had gone off without a hitch at Ms Timms' "lovely new home" at Lumsden.

There was a mixture of staff and councillors at the party, although some councillors did not turn up, with Mr Cockburn saying he chatted to Ms Timms during the evening.

"She was fine, she just needs a bit of support," he said.

When asked if he thought Ms Timms was regretting making the hoax call, he said: "Sure is, yeah. She is totally embarrassed, no doubt about it ... but she's been an excellent chair and still is an excellent chair."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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