#Buttgate: Top official at Wellington City Council slams 'stupid and wasteful' bylaw

Wellington City Council's move to ban the dropping cigarette butts has been ridiculed by a top council employee.
MONIQUE FORD/STUFF

Wellington City Council's move to ban the dropping cigarette butts has been ridiculed by a top council employee.

A senior official at Wellington City Council has ridiculed a decision by councillors in angry social media posts.

Kaine Thompson, chief of staff for council chief executive Kevin Lavery, slammed councillors in posts on Facebook and Twitter on Friday.

He was critical of their decision a day earlier to consult with the public on a new bylaw that would ban the dropping of cigarette butts in the capital.

Kaine Thompson's Facebook post said the council's decision was "offensive to the principles of the rule of law".
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Kaine Thompson's Facebook post said the council's decision was "offensive to the principles of the rule of law".

Some councillors pushed for the bylaw to "send a signal" that it was not OK to throw away butts. However, a small group of councillors pointed out the new law was not needed as it was already covered by the Litter Act, and it would be near impossible to enforce because it requires an authorised official to witness someone discarding a butt.

READ MORE: Wellington City Council votes for a bylaw it knows it can't enforce

Thompson, who is currently on a ratepayer-funded council trip to Canberra as part of a council delegation, labelled the decision "buttgate" on social media.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said the matter was one for city council chief executive Kevin Lavery to deal with.
MONIQUE FORD/STUFF

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said the matter was one for city council chief executive Kevin Lavery to deal with.

"I'm not supposed to criticise council given my job but Fk it, this is too much," Thompson said in a Facebook post.

"How do you think it's ok to pass Law, subordinate though it may be, that is recommended against, you know you don't need, can't afford to enforce and is logistically impossible to enforce anyway...just to send a signal?!

"Are you f***ing serious that you're using your time, efforts and powers to pass a bylaw on smoke butts just to send a signal?

"That is SO OFFENSIVE to the principles of the rule of law and that makes good regulation. Any wonder people think we are stupid and wasteful."

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Thompson also questioned the decision on Twitter.

"If parliament passed a law it didn't need and couldn't enforce just to send a signal [Dean Knight] would have a meltdown #buttgate," Thompson tweeted at 9am. The post has since been deleted.

Knight, a public law expert at Victoria University of Wellington, responded with confusion: "Huh?"

Some of the councillors are furious at the post, but have refused to comment on the grounds it is an employment matter.

One noted it was "extraordinary" that Thompson would comment, especially given he wasn't even in the country when the matter was raised in council.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said Lavery would deal with Thompson.

"I'm not commenting on an individual staff member, that's a matter for the CEO as the employer and I'm sure he will handle it appropriately," Lester said through a spokesman.

When contacted about the post, Thompson was contrite.

"It's an inappropriate comment for me to have made and I accept that I shouldn't be doing it. I should be setting an example and not commenting," he said.

"It's more about using bylaws to send signals, to me, was a bit frustrating. But, you know, [I] accept that I shouldn't have said it."

Thompson agreed the council and its staff was "absolutely" subservient to councillors. Ideally, the chief of staff of an office should speak for his or her boss.

"In an ideal situation, but I accept in this situation I spoke on my own and I shouldn't have done it." 

He would not be resigning over the post, he said. "But I will apologise to the chief executive and I'm prepared to apologise and withdraw my comments."

Lavery said he has apologised to the mayor for what he described as an "unfortunate incident" stressing that Thompson was not speaking on behalf of his office or the council.

"The staff member points out that the post was on his personal (closed) Facebook page and that the post has been 'leaked'," Lavery said. Lavery's statement did not address Thompson's post on Twitter.

"The staff member concerned lives and breathes politics and policy and has very considered and strong views – the great majority of which are valued by me. His judgement and professionalism has been of immense value to the Council over the years.

"He is extremely embarrassed that the post has been made public and has written to councillors to apologise."

 

 

 

 - Stuff

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