Town hall turmoil in reign of ‘Trump’
Leaks reveal concern at mayor’s conduct. Julian Lee reports.
He insists on being referred to as ‘‘your worship’’, threatened to leak damaging material about his own staff to media, and sacked his deputy after she stood up to him.
Westland District Council mayor Bruce Smith has been compared to Donald Trump for behaviour revealed in a tranche of leaked emails obtained by the Sunday Star-Times. They show his 12-month reign has been beset by infighting and humiliation of his staff.
Smith largest, sparsely populated authorities country, stretching 400km from Hokitika to Fiordland.
At the beginning of his tenure in October last year he instructed councillors to stand when speaking at the council table, but if he stood, anyone else speaking had to sit down. Smith later retracted this demand.
In a later email, which Smith confirmed as correct, then-chief executive Tanya Winter instructed staff that Smith insisted on being addressed as ‘‘your worship.’’
Winter also told staff that if the mayor was not satisfied with the speed of their replies to his requests, he would leak information to the media.
‘‘If we are tardy in responding we can expect something in the media we maybe didn’t want, because the mayor will go ahead and get info there whether we are ready or not,’’ she said.
In March, a Stuff investigation revealed how a new business run by a cake decorator, which had no track record in waste management, won a Westland District Council project to build a $7 million sewage plant in Franz Josef.
The process was overseen by Vivek Goel, the council’s assets manager, who stood down when the Serious Fraud Office began presides over most
local in the one of the investigating. Winter resigned over the controversy.
At least four out of Westland’s nine councillors have expressed concern over Smith’s treatment of council staff. The auditor-general has received a complaint over his conduct.
Matters came to a head in late October last year when Hokitika’s Sunset Point started eroding faster than usual.
Smith pushed his own restoration plan, but Winter said it would only make the problem worse. Smith replied that it was ‘‘not Winter’s decision to make.’’
Councillor David Carruthers emailed back, saying that Winter was only acting on the instruction of councillors, and then urged Smith to restrain himself.
‘‘I don’t think getting stuck into our staff all the time, or treating Tanya like a child, is going to help us resolve what is a very sensitive and difficult issue.’’
The emails show Smith also told a West Coast resident he could ignore a warning from council staff on lack of resource consent for a trailer sign.
Smith had also forwarded confidential council material to local business people, local media and former National MP and Mayor Maureen Pugh.
On New Year’s Day, Smith sacked Helen Lash as deputy mayor. He has since reinstated her.
When contacted about the emails, Lash said they were ‘‘deeply concerning’’.
‘‘It potentially creates serious compounding questions as to the level of what has been shared with people outside of council that have no entitlement to this information.’’
Lash confirmed been regularly
The mayor declined to comment on the emails. that Smith compared had to
Westland mayor Bruce Smith.