Northland Regional councillor Mike Finlayson (Te Hiku Ward) has been found in breach of the council's code of conduct with comments he made after drinking a glass of stream water from a forest where 1080 had been dropped days earlier.
The council considered an independent investigator's findings on Tuesday, his recommendations including reminding elected members to separate their personal opinions from the views of the council, and Cr Finlayson apologise to the complainants.
Cr Finlayson said he did not accept the findings, and took issue with what he said was a flawed and biased process. And he had an ally in chief executive Malcolm Nicolson, who said it was his fault the council had no official policy on 1080, forcing Cr Finlayson to articulate his own views instead of being able to present the council's position.
Four people, who were not named in the report, laid seven code of conduct complaints against Cr Finlayson last year after what they described as a "publicity stunt" in which he made and drank a cup of tea using water from a stream in Russell Forest, in the company of council staff and 1080 opponents.
Later, commenting in a Northland Age column about opposition to 1080 on social media, he said he believed "a lot of people who are genuinely concerned about our environment and animals have had their emotions hijacked by the type of emotive propaganda that would make Goebbels proud."
The complainants alleged that drinking the water was a health and safety risk, and that Cr Finlayson's comments were inappropriate for a elected official, and aimed at them personally.
Auckland lawyer Paul Sills, appointed by the council to investigate, said health and safety was beyond the scope of his report, but he found that the council's code of conduct had been breached in four areas. His comments had not identified any individuals but were dismissive of the views of 1080 opponents. And, safe or not, drinking the water was not sensible and risked damaging the council's reputation.
The breaches were not extreme, the biggest issue being that Cr Finlayson had not stopped to think of the impacts his actions would have on his position as a councillor, and in turn on the reputation of the council. He, like the opponents of 1080, had been caught up in the debate and in strongly held opinions.
Mr Sills recommended that he be reminded of his obligation to separate his official duties from his personal opinions. The council could also request an apology to the complainants.
He did not call for Cr Finlayson to step down from his pest control role, saying the council was better served making use of his expertise.
Mr Nicolson dismissed the health and safety complaint, saying water tests within the catchment on September 29, a day after the 1080 drop, had tested negative for the toxin, or in one case returned a result of 1 part per billion, below the limit for drinking water.
He also said Cr Finlayson should be given credit for showing leadership and articulating his views despite the opposition of some members of the community.
He also noted Mr Sills' finding that the council did not have an official position on the use of 1080, which left Cr Finlayson having to express his own views instead of the council's. That was his fault.
Cr Finlayson said the report was biased because he was given no chance to respond to further information after his first meeting with Mr Sills. It also failed to take into account the context of what had been happening on social media, and that the complaints were "part of a campaign to silence an elected official."
Drinking the water had posed no health and safety risk because he had been briefed on the results of the tests beforehand, while he had to contest misinformation about 1080 because losing the social licence to use the "vital pest control tool" could be disastrous for New Zealand's native fauna.
He conceded he had been frustrated at times during his exchanges on social media, but did not believe he had been contemptuous, and his comments were not directed at individuals.