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Council falls short of censuring Andy Foster over Shelly Bay discussion

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 13/05/2021 Harry Lock
Patrice Carteron wearing a suit and tie © RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The Mayor of Wellington has been told to make a written apology after being found trying to influence a councillor's vote on the future of land at Shelly Bay.

An investigation into a confidential meeting between the mayor and one of the councillors found it breached the elected members' Code of Conduct.

While he was asked to make a written apology to those affected, the Council stopped short of censuring him.

The initial complaint against the Andy Foster was laid down by councillor Jenny Condie.

It related to a meeting between the two ahead of a crunch vote in November regarding Shelly Bay - the controversial housing development which Foster opposes.

Condie said the mayor shared notes he had made from a phone call he had had with a former council official, which she alleged was aimed at influencing her vote.

The investigation which followed the complaint found the mayor did breach the Code of Conduct.

It said the use of the file note, which contained "irrelevant, inaccurate, and discredited information", to lobby councillors ahead of a public vote would undermine public confidence.

"This is a serious and material breach of our Code of Conduct, by Mayor Foster," Condie told the council in the meeting yesterday.

The investigation also found the breach was at the lower end of the scale, and said any offence was not intentional.

But Condie disputed this.

"In my view, Ms Hornsby-Geluk [the investigation report's author] acceptance of the mayor's assertion that he did not intend to act improperly was fairly generous.

"Stopping the development at Shelly Bay was one of his key election promises."

But Foster and his team disputed whether his actions accounted for a breach. Richard Caughley - the mayor's legal representative - said he did not understand how it could possibly be.

"How can a private discussion conversation held on a confidential basis be capable of undermining public confidence in the office of Mayor.

"You would think there would need to be some element of public disclosure. There wasn't."

But that argument led to councillor Jill Day questioning the integrity of the public apology he made earlier on this week in The Dominion Post.

"What specifically have you apologised for because what we've just heard sounds like it's not being accepted?" Day asked.

In response, Foster said, "The basis of the apology is to say this has caused a lot of angst to quite a number of people and I want to apologise for my part in that, so we can move forward."

Both Condie and Foster said the investigation has taken a significant toll on them over the past few months while it was ongoing.

Fleur Fitzsimons meanwhile said she believed there needs to be greater transparency over decision-making.

"I don't accept that there is a distinction between conversations that you have privately around decisions around this table, and we shouldn't promote that kind of decision-making. It's not good governance."

A majority of Councillors voted that the mayor's actions did account for a breach.

The report also recommended that the mayor be censured.

"I do believe the mayor should be censured, and I say that really more in sorrow, than in anger," said councillor Nicola Young.

"It was just a hideous chain of circumstances which, if someone just stopped, we wouldn't be here today."

But not everyone agreed - Iona Pannett said punishment has gone far enough already.

"This is all over the country, that the Mayor of the capital city breached the Code of Conduct. I take onboard comments that any punishment should be proportionate.

"And I think it has been."

The vote over censuring the mayor failed, as did a request to get the Mayor to pay back some of the costs for holding the investigation.

He has however been asked to write an apology to Condie, as well as council officials involved.

The council will now be seeking to get things back on track, having also approved a major overhaul of the council structure, designed to improve councillor relationships, and good governance.

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