Dismissed employee challenges review

By Mike Dinsdale

Whangarei District Council CEO Mark Simpson.
Whangarei District Council CEO Mark Simpson.

The woman sacked by Whangarei District Council CEO Mark Simpson for signing the nomination form of a mayoral candidate is seeking a judicial review of the council review that found Mr Simpson had done nothing wrong in sacking her.

Mr Simpson sacked his assistant Jan Walters for signing the nomination form for mayoral candidate Stan Semenoff, but he allowed another of his staff Ford Watson to do some work for mayoral candidate Warwick Syers.

The council subsequently reviewed Mr Simpson's actions, and found it was the council's Election Protocols for Staff - partly used to sack Mrs Walters - that were at fault rather than Mr Simpson.

But the review team - acting mayor Phil Halse, Jeroen Jongejans and John Williamson and independent chair Auckland lawyer Simon Stokes - did not interview Ms Walters during its investigation.

Mrs Walters has applied to the Employment Court for a judicial review of the council's review, saying it was carried out under irregular process.

The statement of claim to the court says the review was initiated as a result of the dismissal and the result was to be reported to the council at an open meeting.

It says the fact that Mrs Walters' circumstances were to be an integral part of the review gave a legitimate expectation that she would be given the opportunity to make a submission or put forward her version of events.

The claim alleges - under the Local Government Act - that the review team and the WDC was required to consider the views of Mrs Walters and any other persons affected by the findings of the review; the appointment of the review team and its purpose was not carried out in an open and transparent manner; the review process was not carried out in an open and transparent manner with the opportunity for her to contribute her submission or views as an affected person; the findings were not reached in an open and transparent manner in that she was not notified of the likely finding against her and given a chance to controvert this and the acceptance of the report by the WDC was not done in an open, transparent and democratic manner in that the findings of the review were kept secret until put to the council for a vote.

But Mr Halse contended the claims, saying the council had been fully open and transparent with the review.

"Mrs Walters is free to do what she feels she needs to do, but we are here to protect ratepayers' interests," Mr Halse said.

"The councillors had the review report for three days before the meeting to discuss it. The meeting was held in public, not in committee and the report and the decision were released publicly. As far as we are concerned we did everything right. We released the report publicly and it's up to the public to make their own minds up."

Mrs Walters is also taking a separate personal grievance case against the council seeking almost $100,000 in damages.

- Northern Advocate

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