Town hall tur­moil in reign of ‘Trump’

Leaks re­veal con­cern at mayor’s con­duct. Ju­lian Lee re­ports.

Sunday Star-Times - - News -

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.

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