Waikato regional councillors on Thursday 26th May voted to lift a 15-month suspension imposed on elected member and Raglanite Fred Lichtwark.
In February last year Cr Lichtwark was suspended from all committees, subcommittees and other representative roles. However, he remained a member of the full Council which meets monthly and as required, continued to receive agendas and was able to sit in on all formal meetings.
The suspension followed an independent investigation under the Waikato Regional Council Code of Conduct for Elected Members into three complaints of angry and abusive behaviour in November 2020.
Following a review last September the suspension was extended until remedial actions were completed to the satisfaction of the regional council chair.
The matter was brought back to today’s meeting of council by Deputy Chair Kataraina Hodge, who said she felt it was time for it to be discussed again.
In a vote of 10-3, councillors passed a motion to lift the suspensions and sanctions imposed on Cr Lichtwark, enabling him to participate in all council activities including standing committees and workshops. Cr Russ Rimmington abstained from the vote.
Waikato Regional Council Chair Barry Quayle said: “Councillors have acknowledged the hurt that continues to be felt, but a majority feel there needs to be an end to the punishment to enable Cr Lichtwark to participate fully in decision making.”
A number of councillors said an apology from Cr Lichtwark was still required and, if made, would “help us to move on”. During the meeting Cr Lichtwark “totally” apologised for any upset he had caused.
Councillors then voted unanimously in favour of a motion reminding them all of their obligations – including those set out in the code of conduct and standing orders – and the expectation that any behaviour that could be interpreted as disrespectful, offensive or harassment is unacceptable.
An additional motion was then put for councillors to develop new processes and systems at a facilitated workshop next week to improve governance culture. The motion was unanimously supported, with the new processes and systems to be adopted at a subsequent meeting of council.
Cr Quayle said he regarded this as the most important matter for councillors to address.
“I am keen to embed a new culture of governance, where values and behaviours are clearly defined and agreed, to take us forward,” Cr Quayle said. “Doing this now will lay a solid platform for the new council coming in later this year.
“In the meantime, I want us to be able to share in vigorous debate, have a difference of opinion, but walk out of the chamber as mates,” he said.
The division on removing the suspension was recorded.
For: Chair B Quayle, Cr K Hodge, Cr S Kneebone, Cr F Lichtwark, Cr T Mahuta, Cr A MacPherson, Cr J Nickel, Cr A Strange, Cr D Tegg, Cr K White.
Against: Cr S Husband, Cr P Storey, Cr H Vercoe.
Abstention: Cr R Rimmington.