The Whangarei Council sacking

September 17th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

TVNZ reports:

A District Council employee has been fired for nominating a candidate for mayoralty.

Jan Walters-Gleeson signed a nomination form last month for Stan Semenoff, a former mayor of Whangarei who is re-standing.

My first reaction was that the Council was wrong to do so. Employees have a right to nominate, or even to stand. But there is a complicating factor.

Ms Walters-Gleeson, who is the personal assistant to the mayor and chief executive of the Whangarei District Council, was sacked two weeks ago, Radio New Zealand reports.

Being the PA to the Mayor makes this case more nuanced. I think it is fair enough to conclude that you can’t have a Mayoral PA who nominates a challenger to the Mayor. How could you possibly have a working relationship with the Mayor after that?

I can’t fathom how Ms Walters-Gleeson could have though that there would be no consequences to doing this.

Now having said that, I think the better response from the Council would be to move her into another job, rather than sack her. She obviously could not continue as the PA to the Mayor, but could continue as a PA in another section of the Council.

Mr Dunne said her dismissal appears to be a gross breach of her rights as a citizen to participate freely and fairly in the electoral process.

“I am surprised we have heard nothing so far from the , given its oversight role of electoral processes, about the infringement of Ms Walters-Gleeson’s rights as an elector.

I am not surprised as the Electoral Commission does not run local body elections, but more to the point they have no role in . There is no dispute about the validity of the nomination form, just a dispute over a sacking.

According to Radio New Zealand, Ms Walters-Gleeson will fight for her reinstatement.

As I said, I think she should be employed elsewhere in the Council. But one can not expect to be PA to the Mayor when yerou sign the nomination form of a rival. It would be like claiming that an MP’s EA could nominate their election opponent, yet still be the MPs EA.  I’m not sure would be too happy if his EA had signed the nomination form of Charles Chauvel!

UPDATE: I’m told the current Mayor is not standing, which makes it less of a judgement of error. I still think a Mayoral PA should not sign any Mayoral nominations forms. However the appropriate response is to transfer, not sack.

12 Responses to “The Whangarei Council sacking”

  1. Brian Harmer (688 comments) says:

    There is no “rival” issue as the present mayor is not standing

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  2. Alan Wilkinson (2,435 comments) says:

    I don’t think I agree with this since she was PA to the CEO as well as the mayor. That implies political neutrality rather than partisan allegiance to the mayor. If the mayor wants a political operative as PA then he should not share his PA with the CEO.

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  3. jawnbc (250 comments) says:

    Bogus sacking. EVERYONE is entitled to participate in the political process.

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  4. iMP (2,665 comments) says:

    Signing a nomination form is a commitment to the process and does not necessarily imply your advocacy for that candidate over another. She might also sign someone else’s nomination form, which is saying, “I accept this person as a right and true nominee as a candidate.” Seems to me that is an entirely valid argument. A hefty employment payout coming on this one.

    The sacking was way more political than her annotating a nom. form.

    [DPF: Oh come on, it is an effectivement endorsement. And why would you do it? There are 10,000+ people who can sign a nomination form.

    If you are the PA to the Mayor, do not sign a Mayoral nomination form. It is as simple as that]

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  5. Brian Harmer (688 comments) says:

    She was PA to a mayor who is standing down. There was no conflict. I expect her to win in court

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  6. Changeiscoming (334 comments) says:

    Brian if you are correct and the current Mayor is not standing again, then this changes things.

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  7. scrubone (3,791 comments) says:

    The Morning Report item was extraordinary. She pretty much blamed everyone else for not catching *her* judgement error.

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  8. Alan Wilkinson (2,435 comments) says:

    I agree with Brian. DPF is 100% wrong on this one.

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  9. orewa1 (430 comments) says:

    She was wrong. Not because she was a Council employee per se, but because of the seniority and political sensitivity of her role. If she doesn’t get that, then she would be better placed in a less senior position with less requirement for mature judgements.

    As for David’s comment “I think the better response from the Council would be to move her into another job rather than sack her” I have an intuitive sense from her obvious self-righteousness that they might not be too sorry to see her go.

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  10. Bad__Cat (142 comments) says:

    She was appointed by the previous mayor as his PA. He was defeated at the last election. He is standing again.
    This happens to be the same person whose nomination she signed. Her previous boss and personal friend.
    Staff had been warned that not only should they be neutral, but they should be seen to be neutral.

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  11. Alan Wilkinson (2,435 comments) says:

    @Bad__Cat, sounds to me as though the “warning” was clearly ultra vires.

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  12. Warren Murray (400 comments) says:

    I think any employee working in the public sector is jeopardising themselves if they want to get politically active. Professional neutrality is called into question when you dabble in poliics while drawing a publicly unded salary. That said, dismissal seems a bit OTT and i wonder if there’s more to it.

    From the info availale, IMO Council fails on substantive as well as procedural grounds.

    If this was a no go area for staff, an external review would look at whether staff were notified in some sort of code of conduct that active participation in the electoral process was incompatible with their work. It’s a small town and if she had been in the role long enough, she may have had a professional and or personal relationship with the candidate.

    Even if the Council had substantive grounds, on the basis of loss of trust / confidence that is somehow tied to her role as EA to the Mayor and CEO has been irreparably harmed, its process that results in dismissal instead of redeployment seems be further grounds for challenging the Council.

    Me thinks the ratepayers will be piking up the bill for his half cocked decision.

    I think Kevin Ross was having a bad day when he did this. I wonder if there were other issues affecting his judgement? Perhaps the thought of having Stan as his boss worries him a little…..and he ‘lashed out’ by firing Jan.

    In the Council’s last Annual Report, he was on $280,000, the EA earned how much?

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