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War of words

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Email thread details plot to challenge CDC’s Long-Term Plan
Councillors start a war of words

Carterton councillors are embroiled in a war of words after accidentally sending the council’s chief executive an email thread outlining plans to challenge the recently adopted Long-Term Plan.

The email was intended for a friend with a similar email address.

On July 2, Councillor Jill Greathead forwarded nine pages of emails to Carterton District Council acting chief executive Blair King.

She had meant to send the emails to another contact that began with the letters ‘BL’.

Councillor Steve Cretney also participated in the email chain.

The emails were sent among 19 recipients, including former councillors and a former mayor [not John Booth].

Participants in the email thread discussed their disappointment in the adoption of Carterton’s Long-Term Plan.

Mayor Greg Lang said the emails exposed a “breach of trust” and a breach of the council’s Code of Conduct.

He described the actions of the two councillors as “political manoeuvring”.

Carterton councillors signed off their LTP at a meeting on June 30.

Greathead and Cretney were the only councillors who had opposed its adoption.

At the meeting, Cretney had questioned financial information within the LTP budget.

“There are figures in there that are incorrect,” Cretney said.

In the email thread, Cretney said he had not had enough “ammunition” at the council meeting to dispute the auditor’s findings.

“I found today extremely difficult and am very grateful it is over,” he said.

He thanked other members of the email thread for attending and speaking in the public forum of the meeting.

“You were all outstanding and should be sitting in my chair around the table.”

Another member of the email chain said they would prepare a document to appeal the LTP vote based on concerns around consultation.

Greathead said she would distribute this document among the members and ask them if they would like to co-sign it. The document would then be taken before the Ombudsman and Auditor-General.

“If we don’t challenge them, they will do it again,” Greathead said of other councillors who had voted to adopt the LTP.

Councillor Cretney reiterated Greathead’s stance.

Unsuccessful 2021 Carterton byelection candidate Grant Pittams was also a participant in the email thread.

Pittams referred to Greathead and Cretney as the “frontline troops” of an army preparing for a battle in next year’s local government elections.

He said the “army” wanted to help CDC set an example through its governance process.

“Going forwards from here, the LTP is now in place, and that is a victory for the other side,” Pittams said. “[W]e need to put that defeat behind us and prepare for the next battle … The point of the war is to achieve the aims of our group for the betterment of our community.”

Pittams said he sought an LTP that would not place a further burden on residents already struggling to meet their rates obligations.

Carterton had the highest average residential rates in New Zealand for two years running, according to the Taxpayers’ Union Ratepayers’ Report.

Cretney agreed with Pittams’ assessment of the situation.

“My thoughts above are along the lines of what Grant has said.”

Greathead said Pittams’ comments were inspired by Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, an ancient Chinese military text.

“I can be a frontline troop,” Greathead said. “We have to start taking control – communities have to start taking control of what we spend.”

Mayor Lang said it appeared the members of the email chain were working together to discredit the council ahead of next year’s local body election.

On July 7, after a meeting with Greathead and Cretney, Lang had sent the entire contents of the email chain to all councillors.

“In light of being fully transparent, [deputy mayor] Rebecca [Vergunst] and I feel it is important that you are made aware of this breach of trust.”

Lang expressed his disappointment in Greathead and Cretney and highlighted the areas of the Code of Conduct he said the councillors had not upheld.

He said the councillors had broken sections 3.2, 5.2, 5.3, and 11 of the CDC Code of Conduct. These sections addressed issues of public trust, courtesy, and respect among employees, the reputation of the local authority, and good governance of the district.

“I take any breach of the code of conduct seriously because it is not in keeping with the community’s expectations of elected members,” Lang said.

“It is a privilege to serve our communities, so we must act in a way which honours that privilege.”

However, Lang chose not to pursue a Code of Conduct complaint.

“We felt it was best to deal with it internally as code of conduct complaints tend to morph into the cause of further problems and the widening of rifts.”

Lang said the adoption of the LTP was a process that had lasted 18 months, with multiple opportunities for councillors to debate issues openly.

“This is democracy, and this is what our community deserves.”

After Lang sent the email chain to councillors, councillor Rob Stockley provided the emails to the Times-Age.

“I’m doing this completely on my own, without anyone else and without seeking permission from the mayor or other elected members,” Stockley said.

Greathead said she had sent the email chain to King in error and had asked Lang not to distribute it among councillors.

“We live in a democracy. People are allowed to say what they want to say,” Greathead said.

She had updated the settings of her four email accounts to include a confidential disclaimer at the bottom of each email.

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