The woman who took on a role of unofficial advocate for Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen shortly after his election has criticised a report reviewing the unusual arrangement.

Christine Toms initially told the Horowhenua Chronicle the review was a "beat-up" and claimed it was never presented to the Horowhenua District Council and was incomplete.

Toms would not provide any further comment, and has since denied she had spoken to the Chronicle about the report.

Reviewer Bruce Robertson, an external governance advice consultant and former Local Government NZ assistant auditor general, said his report could only be considered incomplete in any form because both Toms and Feyen refused to participate.


"Not through a lack of process on my part," he said.

Robertson said he had presented the report to the council's finance, audit and risk committee shortly after it was completed.

The review was carried out in December 2017 but kept private by Horowhenua District Council until recently, when it has been released on request to several parties including the Horowhenua Chronicle.

It examines Toms' conduct in acting in an unofficial and unpaid capacity on Feyen's behalf, including writing at least one email in his name.

Former mayoral advocate Christine Toms.
Former mayoral advocate Christine Toms.

The report states Feyen sought support for his role and that earlier in 2017 he appointed an adviser, Toms, whom he identified as his advocate.

"The person appointed as advocate was not an employee of council. Nor was her position funded by the council. The role had no formal status within council administration – not being an employee, nor having any lines of accountability," the report says.

"This situation created confusion among staff and elected members, and tension between the mayor and the chief executive."

Toms' unofficial role came about due to the incoming mayor seeking support for his role, a normal expectation in many councils.


However, the review found Feyen was initially not trusting of the support provided and asked for his own resources to assist him.

When those resources, still provided through the council, continued to fall short in offering the support he needed, he engaged Toms as his advocate, the report said.

"The fundamental problem is that the role of the advocate was never defined, at least for those who were expected to interact with her," it stated.

"It was never clear whether the advocate was a political adviser to the mayor, a communications adviser, or a spokesperson. The only definitions we saw of the role were given by the advocate herself."

The report said in communications that were reviewed, statements appearing to be made on behalf of the mayor were "interspersed with, and at times inseparable from statements of a personal nature by the advocate concerning what were clearly her own issues and opinions".

The lack of clarity in the advocate's role also caused uncertainties about the use of confidential information, the review found.

The reviewer said the environment observed at Horowhenua District Council was "marked by a sharp lack of trust between the mayor and the chief executive, and between the mayor and most other councillors".

However, the review also raised questions about what level of support a council should provide for the role of mayor, as well as exposing problems in how elected members obtain information from council, noting Feyen's increasing use of the Official Information Act to do this, which he should not have to.

Feyen was contacted for comment but did not respond.

• This article has been updated since initial publication online to include Toms' denial she spoke to the Chronicle about the report.