Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

C&R leader offers to quit after debate turns heated

Christine Fletcher. Photo / Natalie Slade
Christine Fletcher. Photo / Natalie Slade

The Citizens & Ratepayers leader on Auckland Council, Christine Fletcher, reportedly threatened to resign during a heated internal wrangle among right-leaning councillors on Mayor Len Brown's $2.86 billion inner-city rail loop.

Mrs Fletcher stayed on as leader, but is now offside with some centre-right councillors for making "nasty, personal comments" against councillor and former Act MP Penny Webster at last Friday's adoption of the Auckland Plan.

Former C&R Auckland City councillor Aaron Bhatnagar, who is advising Mrs Fletcher, is being blamed for the attack on Mrs Webster and negative tactics being adopted by the right.

Last night, Mrs Fletcher made no apologies for accusing Mrs Webster of abandoning her fiscal responsibilities and being in the pocket of Mr Brown, saying she had to own her vote as chair of the finance committee and a member of Mr Brown's inner circle.

"This is a robust environment we are working in," said Mrs Fletcher, a former National MP schooled in the bearpit of Parliament.

C&R councillor Noelene Raffills said she and C&R colleague Des Morrison had contacted Mrs Webster to distance themselves from the attack.

"Nasty, personal comments are not my style," Mrs Raffills said.

The right-leaning independent councillor Calum Penrose said the attack on Mrs Webster overstepped the mark and suspected it was the work of Mr Bhatnagar. So, too, did Mrs Webster, who called it "nasty, personal politics".

Mrs Fletcher said Mr Bhatnagar confirmed they worked on the press release together, but Mrs Fletcher said she used the words "Penny is in the mayor's pocket" in the context of the affordability of the Auckland Plan.

The press release followed what one C&R source said was a robust internal policy debate which had its "stressful moments". Another source said Mrs Fletcher threatened to resign during the debate.

Mrs Fletcher said she would have stepped aside if there was a conflict between her position as an Auckland Transport board member and C&R policy on the rail loop, which she has supported.

But Mrs Fletcher said she was not put in that position after C&R and three right-leaning independent councillors reached a policy position of proceeding with preliminary work on the rail loop but wanted to see costings on a scaled-back project.

Dick Quax who, with George Wood, is one of the two C&R councillors most sceptical about the rail loop, said he was still not comfortable with the project and believed the ticket did not have a firm position.

Meanwhile, Mr Bhatnagar has denied a suggestion that he approached the council to be employed to provide opposition communications.

He said the subject was raised with a council official but he had no interest in a paid role as a "spin doctor".

ROUGH POLITICS

* Citizens & Ratepayers leader Christine Fletcher reportedly threatens to resign.
* She stays on, but under fire for attacking another councillor.
* C&R member Aaron Bhatnagar blamed for negative tactics.
* C&R policy on inner-city rail loop unclear.

- NZ Herald

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