Return sacked aide: Semenoff

By Mike Dinsdale

Council CEO Mark Simpson
Council CEO Mark Simpson

A Whangarei District Council worker dismissed under the council's Election Protocols which have since been found to be "a shambles" should get her job back, the mayoral candidate at the centre of the sacking storm says.

Council CEO Mark Simpson has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the council after he sacked his assistant Jan Walters for signing the nomination form for mayoral candidate Stan Semenoff but let another of his staff, Ford Watson, do some work for mayoral candidate Warwick Syers.

A review committee set up to look at the circumstances surrounding the two cases of three councillors - Acting Mayor Phil Halse, Jeroen Jongejans and John Williamson - and independent chair Auckland lawyer Simon Stokes, found that the Election Protocols partly used to sack Ms Walters, rather than the conduct of Mr Simpson, required closer examination.

There was ambiguity as to what Mr Watson was allowed to do for Mr Syers, with the CEO's failure to sufficiently spell out the limits of the dispensation granted the only real criticism of Mr Simpson in the report.

The council voted to review the protocols on staff involvement in elections ahead of the next local body elections.

But Mr Semenoff said the report showed that the protocols were a "shambles" and for fairness Ms Walters should be reinstated immediately.

Ms Walters - who was not spoken to as part of the review - has lodged a personal grievance claim over her sacking.

"The report has shown that the protocols are a shambles, yet they have used them to give somebody the sack. Is it worth giving somebody the sack over protocols that have been found to be wrong?" Mr Semenoff said.

"If the protocols are a mess, why haven't they reinstated the person who was sacked?

"This is not about Mark Simpson or Jan Walters, it's about the principle of fairness.

"The protocols are wishy washy."

Another mayoral candidate, Cr Crichton Christie, voted against accepting the review team report, saying it was a "whitewash" and he will ask the Minister of Local Government, Chris Tremain, to appoint someone to carry out a truly independent review.

Cr Christie said the review had dodged the question of whether the CEO made an error of judgment that has exposed the council to the perception of electoral bias.

"The review was so lightweight the committee didn't even interview some of the key people involved in this matter, and this is evident by the quality of the report produced," he said.

$100,000 claim follows firing

Former Whangarei District Council worker Jan Walters, sacked for signing the nomination form of a mayoral candidate, is claiming almost $100,000 in compensation, with ratepayers likely to pick up the tab if she is successful with her claim.

Council chief executive officer Mark Simpson has been cleared by the council of any wrongdoing over the sacking, but a decision on whether the sacking was justified will be determined by mediation, and if necessary, a hearing before the Employment Relations Authority. Ms Walters has lodged a personal grievance with the council for unjustified dismissal, and is seeking almost $100,000 in compensation for lost wages and hurt and humiliation.

She is claiming the council's election protocols breach the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993 and also prevented her from exercising her democratic rights under the Local Electoral Act 2001. Her claim is that those rights can only circumscribed by an act of Parliament.

Ms Walters' lawyer Andrew Holgate said it was unusual one of the main people involved would not be interviewed by the review team. "In terms of natural justice she had an expectation that she would have been consulted as part of this," he said.

- Northern Advocate

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