The row that won't die

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Mark Simpson
Mark Simpson

The Whangarei District Council's independent review of CEO Mark Simpson raised more
questions than it answered, the Advocate believes. So we asked the WDC some questions.

The council code of conduct for staff and the CEO states that:

The public must have no basis on which to believe that decisions are made or policies are applied unevenly. Employees must observe the principles of fairness and impartiality in all aspects of their work.

Employees should perform their duties honestly and impartially, and avoid situations which might compromise their integrity or otherwise lead to conflicts of interest. The impartiality and integrity of employees are central to the maintenance of good governance and confidence in public service.

1) Did the council specifically consider whether Mr Simpson had breached these rules?

2) If not, why not?

3) If so, what is the reason that Mr Simpson was not considered to have breached these rules?

4) Does the council believe Mr Simpson gave the public any reason to think he applied council rules unfairly?

5) Does the council believe Mr Simpson was impartial in applying the rules?

The council code of conduct for staff and the CEO also states that:

Public interest

Employees should serve only the interests of the district as a whole and should never improperly confer an advantage or disadvantage on any one person or group.

Honesty and integrity

Employees should behave properly and should on all occasions avoid the situations where their honesty and integrity may be questioned.

Accountability

Employees should be accountable to the public and their colleagues for their actions and the manner in which they carry out their responsibilities. They should co-operate fully and honestly with the scrutiny appropriate to their particular department.

Openness

Employees should be open and transparent about their actions and those of council, and should be able to justify their actions.

6) Does the council believe that Mr Simpson's actions led to his integrity being questioned?

7) Does the council believe that Mr Simpson's actions suggested he may have given an advantage to one staff member of another?

8) Does the council believe Mr Simpson was open and transparent around his actions involving the two staff members?

9) Does the council have full faith in Mr Simpson as the right person to be leading the council?

Simon Stokes, the lawyer used for the independent review, is a "litigation partner specialising in construction" with expertise in "drafting and negotiating all forms of construction contracts and acting on the resolution of construction disputes in court, arbitration and mediation". This quoted information comes from Mr Stokes' firm's website.

Could the council please explain:

10) How did it select/choose Mr Stokes?

11) Why was a lawyer who "specialises in construction" chosen and not a human resources or employment lawyer?

12) Did the council seek legal advice from a human resources or employment law specialist?

13) Did the council seek specific legal advice from a human resources or employment law specialist on whether Mr Simpson had breached the council's code of conduct?

The CEO and staff are subject to a code of conduct rule which says:

Employees should be open and transparent about their actions and those of council, and should be able to justify their actions.

14) Do the WDC councillors believe they have been open and transparent in their handling of the independent review?

Staff are also subject to these clauses:

Elected members are also subject to similar clauses in their code of conduct.

Public interest

Employees should serve only the interests of the district as a whole and should never improperly confer an advantage or disadvantage on any one person or group.

Honesty and integrity

Employees should behave properly and should on all occasions avoid the situations where their honesty and integrity may be questioned.

15) Does the council believe that it has honoured the spirit of these clauses during the review process?

BACKGROUND

Mark Simpson sacked his PA, Jan Walters, for signing mayoral candidate Stan Semenoff's mayoral nomination. Ms Walters had breached council rules re interaction with politicians. Mr Simpson also exempted his executive assistant, Ford Watson, from these rules to allow him to work for mayoral candidate Warwick Syers.

The independent review by building construction contract expert Simon Stokes found that the rules were confusing and at fault, as opposed to Mr Simpson. The WDC voted to accept Mr Stokes' report. What is not clear is what if any discussion took place as to, having received the report, what the councillors thought, and their view on whether Mr Simpson had breached council protocols.

Acting Mayor Phil Halse replies:

The questions all relate to an employment issue between council and Mark Simpson.
The independent review committee's decision has been released publicly. Council must not and will not comment further on this employment matter.

You accurately reflected my position on this in your article on Saturday when you reported that, "as far as I am concerned, the matter is over".

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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