A furore over the possible demotion of long-standing Hawke's Bay District Health Board chairman Kevin Atkinson is unlikely to be answered until the announcement of government DHB appointees early next month.
Appointments based on specialised skills to complement those of the seven chosen by the public in the recent local elections are made by Cabinet decision on recommendations from the Minister of Health.
A spokesperson for Minister of Health David Clark says that under the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act, DHB members remain in place until 58 days after the elections, meaning appointments will be made and announced before December 9.
There is thus no comment from the minister that a new chairman will be appointed over Atkinson.
Atkinson, worried about the numbers of board members departing at election time, reversed his own decision and stood again with what he says was an indication that if successful he would again be appointed to the chair.
First appointed to the chair in 2001, Atkinson has been the most popular candidate at each of five elections since first testing the public vote in 2007, nearing the end of the legislated maximum nine years for government appointment to the board.
He retained his popularity despite the near year-long suspension of the board — from a decision by Labour Government Minister David Cunliffe to sack the board and appoint a commissioner in 2007 to new National Government Minister Tony Ryall's reinstatement of the board soon after the 2008 general elections.
Atkinson said he could have expected to hear from Clark soon after the latest local election but had heard nothing, a silence helping fuel rumours that he has been overlooked.
The man at the centre of the rumours, and tipped as the new appointee despite having not previously been on the board, is banker and former Hawke's Bay DHB Maori health manager Shayne Walker. He responded "no comment" when approached by Hawke's Bay Today on Wednesday, soon after the last meeting of the old board in Hastings.
It was at that meeting that the minister's lack of communication with Atkinson raised the hackles of departing government-appointee Barbara Arnott, who in 2007 as Mayor of Napier had with Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule nominated Atkinson for his first election to the board.
Arnott, having served nine years as well having been deputy to Commissioner John Anderson during the suspension of the board 11-12 years ago, says the lack of respect from the minister is unacceptable.
He had served governments of both National and Labour leadership throughout almost all of the board's history, and the public who had popularly voted repeatedly for his continuation on the board, she said.
Yule, now Opposition National MP for Hastings-based Tukituki, told Radio New Zealand the wait for a new appointment was "completely unacceptable".
Records show the last appointment by the former National-led Government took almost nine weeks, from election day October 8, 2016, to Minister Jonathan Coleman's announcement on December 2 that year.
"The Hawke's Bay DHB currently has an interim CEO, two other senior executive roles in finance and operations are on leave or not being filled, so I think the minister has been incredibly slack," Yule said.
"Two months on there has been no word on who the government appointees are. It's completely unacceptable."
On the day before the closing of this year's local elections, Hawke's Bay council leaders wrote to Clark urging him to ensure a speedy appointment of a new DHB chair and chief executive to help overturn dire health statistics in the region.
The leaders were "ashamed" so many children lived below the poverty line, 22 per cent of young Māori were not in employment or training and the suicide rate was at its highest rate.
"The appointment of chair and CEO of the Hawke's Bay District Health Board is critically significant to the future vision, leadership and outcomes of Hawke's Bay," the letter said.