Legal twist in council sacking

Russ Rimmington

The vote of a single councillor when Waikato Regional Council chair Russ Rimmington got rolled this week prompted his suggestion it would result in a judicial review.

Rimmington was dumped by an 8-6 margin on Monday and then nominated Barry Quayle as his successor. Ironically, Waipā’s Stu Kneebone, who moved that Rimmington be sacked, seconded the motion for Quayle.

But councillors were told Fred Lichtwark’s vote on the sacking could compromise it because he had earlier announced how he would vote on radio.

Rimmington, 76, has been relegated to the benches five months out from the local body elections.

If the former Hamilton mayor was thinking of retiring from the political scene this year, it is a fair bet he will now seriously consider another term as a Hamilton ward member.

He told The News this week he had “unfinished business.”

Rimmington remains a passionate supporter of the Te Huia rail service, which he believes needs marketing – and he is also concerned that the major political parties cannot agree on Three Waters, and a new Government could scrap it, effectively wasting the millions of dollars already spent on the process

Rimmington had to get one of the eight councillors who earlier called on him to stand down to change tack – but had not done so when the issue went to the vote on Monday.

Lichtwark was never going to be one of them – with Rimmington in the chair he was suspended from all council committees, subcommittees and other representative roles early last year following complaints about his behaviour.

Rimmington told the News the result of the vote went against the advice of constitutional lawyer Mai Chen. Whether or not he will take legal action so close to an election is a moot point, but he did suggest the electorate would have its say in October.

He estimated it would cost $100,000 to take private action.

His ousting has exposed a bitter division in the council.

Back row, l-r: Fred Lichtwark, Andrew Macpherson, Stu Kneebone, Pamela Storey, Kathy White, Jennifer Nickel, Angela Strange, Denis Tegg, Hugh Vercoe. Front row, l-r: Barry Quayle, Kataraina Hodge, Russ Rimmington, Tipa Mahuta, Stu Husband.

Rimmington was gracious in defeat, telling councillors it had been an honour to lead them – but he signalled there would be a judicial review on the issue.

Deputy chair Kataraina Hodge and councillors Lichtwark, Tipa Mahuta, Denis Tegg, Angela Strange, Jennifer Nickel and Waipā-King Country representatives Andrew MacPherson and Stu Kneebone ousted the chair.

Pamela Storey, Stu Husband, Hugh Vercoe, Kathy White and Quayle all backed him.

Hamilton city councillors Geoff Taylor and Mark Bunting both spoke at this week’s council meeting urging councillors not to roll their chair. Both said they appeared in a private capacity.

Rimmington’s directness – variously described as being a bit too blunt and shooting from the hip – put him offside with councillors when he questioned the level of Māori influence on the Three Waters plan.

But councillors did not heed Bunting’s call to “focus on what is said, not how it was said,” and the man who moved the motion – Waipa councillor Stu Kneebone said Three Waters was not the issue.

He accused Rimmington of misrepresenting the council’s position on issues.

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