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SWDC’s bully boys

Greytown Community Board meeting via Zoom in September. GRAPHIC/TIMES-AGE

Exchange starts a chain of bad reactions
An email exchange with comments ‘tantamount to bullying’ between a council boss and elected member have been exposed. Now, the woman at the heart of the matter wants justice.

A council chief executive and a councillor have been caught making derogatory comments about a community board chairwoman in an email exchange one of them later forwarded to her.

Ann Rainford said she is angry and upset at what she describes as comments “tantamount to bullying” by South Wairarapa District Council chief executive Harry Wilson and councillor Alistair Plimmer, and wants the incident fully investigated.

But South Wairarapa mayor Alex Beijen said it was an internal employment matter that was treated “very seriously and addressed immediately at the time”.

The remarks about Rainford, the Greytown Community Board chairwoman, were contained in an email exchange between Wilson and Plimmer which was subsequently forwarded to the entire community board by Plimmer.

“Does it go as far as saying she is really stupid” Wilson wrote in an email, referring to Rainford, followed by a grinning emoji.

“Implied”, councillor Alistair Plimmer responded, three laughing emojis in tow.

Harry Wilson: “Sadly she probably won’t get it”.

Alistair Plimmer: “True”.

Beijen said the necessary action was taken at the time the exchange was discovered, with the matter resolved “and, to our knowledge, all concerns addressed”.

Rainford accepted Wilson’s apology, but did not feel Plimmer’s apology was sufficient.

She wants a formal investigation and for Plimmer to be taken off the community board.

Neither have happened.

The email exchange took place on October 1 and was contained in a thread discussing future land use of the council-owned property in Greytown at 85-87 West St.

It was forwarded to all members of the board by Plimmer, a board member himself.

Rainford raised concerns about the contents of the email exchange with other community board chairs across the district, and said she received support from them in pursuing further action.

On October 11, Rainford received an email from Beijen stating that he had been forwarded an email chain where a private correspondence was attached to an email to the community board.

She said Beijen told her it was an employment matter and that she was able to make a complaint to him that would result in a disciplinary investigation.

“Initially, I hoped we might solve the issue internally,” she said.

The next day, Rainford said Wilson called her to apologise.

After the call, Rainford emailed Beijen suggesting the following course of action: an official written apology from the chief executive and Plimmer, and the immediate removal of Plimmer from his role on the community board because “his actions and attitude had shown a disrespect for myself as chair and the process of communicating with the board”.

On October 17, Rainford wrote to Plimmer stating she had lost confidence in his role on the board and invited his resignation.

The next day, Plimmer sent an email to Rainford saying: “I will decline your very kind offer to resign as my presence on the community board is of the utmost importance to ameliorate the extreme actions and attitudes shown by some members.

“As such I will remain until council, who appointed me, decides otherwise.”

Just over a week later, Rainford received an apology from Plimmer stating: “While you and I will probably never agree on how you are managing the community board, my email was inappropriate and for that I apologise and for any hurt you have felt”.

Rainford told Local Democracy Reporting she was not hurt by the email exchanges but was “angered by the derogatory language and attitudes used that I considered tantamount to bullying”.

On November 4, Rainford submitted several documents to Beijen to begin the process of a formal complaint.

She said a week later Beijen told her the concerns did not warrant an investigation.

“On November 19, I received a formal letter of apology from the CEO.”

“I accept this apology was sincere.”

However Rainford’s request for Plimmer’s removal from the board has not been addressed.

Last week, Rainford told Local Democracy Reporting there had been “intimidatory” email exchanges about the West St land issue.

When seeking a response from the council about this allegation, Wilson said Rainford’s comments suggested she did not feel free to voice her opinions freely and “and that is not the way the council behaves”.

The council is set to approve a new Code of Conduct on Wednesday, which includes a clause that the actions of all elected members may need to be justified to the public.

“The reputation of the council is dependent on elected members’ conduct, and the public perception of this conduct,” the new code states.

The new code states that members will “conduct dealings with each other in a manner which … avoids aggressive, bullying, or offensive conduct, including the use of disrespectful or malicious language”.

Plimmer was approached for comment. – NZLDR

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