Councillor found to have breached code of conduct

Ōpōtiki district council. Supplied photos.

Ōpōtiki district councillor Barry Howe has been found in breach of the council’s code of conduct after revealing confidential council information on social media.

An independent investigator has found him to be in breach of the council’s media rules.

A decision about what penalties will be imposed on him or other actions required will be made at a meeting of the Ōpōtiki District Council tomorrow.

On December 7, Howe posted information on Facebook that had been presented to him at a council workshop the previous day.

The information was about a proposal to develop council-owned lots 9 and 10 in Church Street into new council offices instead of the planned commercial retail and office premises.

Howe stated on Facebook that he was against the idea and sought the opinions of ratepayers and business owners. He also gave information about the cost of the proposal.

Three days later, Mayor Lyn Riesterer wrote to the council chief executive Aileen Lawrie requesting a code of conduct investigation be undertaken into Mr Howe’s behaviour.

The complaint was referred to independent local government consultant Philip Jones of PJ & Associates.

Jones found Howe was materially in breach of the code for disclosing information provided to him as an elected member. In addition, he found Howe’s Facebook comments to be factually incorrect.

In his Facebook post, Howe said the proposal was put forward by council staff at the December 6 meeting.

“The ‘proposal’ has previously been discussed by council in a workshop in November 2021 and agreed that this proposal was worthy of further consideration. It is therefore incorrect to state that the proposal was put forward by council staff at the December workshop,” Jones’ report says.

He says Howe had misrepresented the cost of the project to ratepayers.

“This post was clearly undermining the reputation of the local authority,” his report says.

Lawrie’s recommendation to tomorrow’s meeting includes that Howe be invited to speak in his defence and that the council make decisions on penalties or actions.

These could include a letter or the censure of Howe, a request for an apology, removal of responsibilies, a vote of no confidence in Howe or an invitation for him to consider resigning from the council.

This is not the first time Howe has faced complaints that he is in breach of the council’s code of conduct.

In 2010, during his first term, he faced a hearing over comments he made about a cleaning company that was awarded a public toilet cleaning and litter control contract.

He said it was not a local company and criticised the standard of work, both of which turned out to be inaccurate. He publicly apologised for any offence given.

Ōpōtiki district councillor Barry Howe.

He was also accused by the deputy mayor of the time, Selby Fisher, of leaking information from a confidential meeting about matters raised with the chief executive about a possible breache of a liquor licence. However, Howe denied that he had done so.

The proposal to move the council offices to Lots 9 and 10 was voted down at a meeting on December 21, with councillors divided two against five.

Councillor Debi Hocart said at the time that the vote may have ended differently if the process had not been so “out of whack”.

-Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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