Councillor Mike Rutledge. Photo: Rātā Foundation.

Code of conduct complaint causes concern

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Nelson mayor Rachel Reese’s decision not to include allegations of serious misconduct against councillor Mike Rutledge in an investigation into his behaviour represents a failure of leadership, says councillor Matt Lawrey.

The code of conduct breach stems from an incident on May 17, last year when Mike had an “outburst” over reduced funding for Natureland Zoo, of which his wife, Meg Rutledge, is a director.

Mike has a noted conflict of interest and doesn’t take part in discussions relating to the wildlife sanctuary.

Thinking that council was adjourned he re-entered the chambers to see information on funding reduction displayed on a screen and made a comment to the effect of “what clown” put that up there.

Mayor Rachel Reese laid a code of conduct complaint against him and an independent investigation was then launched.

Nelson barrister Camilla Owen was appointed to undertake the investigation and provide a report to the Code of Conduct Committee which met to discuss the findings on Monday.

Rachel says she chose to keep the complaint “focussed on the matters that could undermine the public’s trust and confidence in Council decision-making”.

She says councillors with concerns about their personal interaction with Mike, those who have direct knowledge, are “far better placed to make their own Code of Conduct complaint if they feel one is warranted”.

Matt Lawrey says Rachel publicly stated that there would be a “proper” Code of Conduct investigation that would be “fair to everyone involved” and then requested an investigation that “totally ignored” Mike’s “unacceptable behaviour towards four councillors”.

“Why would anyone else lodge a complaint when the mayor told us the investigation would be fair for everyone involved? Councillors trusted her to do the right thing and she has seriously let us down.”

Mike provided a statement to the committee saying he was “overall comfortable” that the report offered a fair reflection of events.

The committee decided that Mike was in breach of the code of conduct for his comment and that a letter of censure should be the penalty as he had already willingly offered an apology.

Councillor Gaile Noonan said the committee did not approve of the type of behaviour but many penalty options were “counter-productive”.

Bill Dahlberg chaired the committee and says everyone agreed that something was said.

“Whether it was 12 or 20 words there’s still some discussion, but she’s (Camilla) agreed that it would’ve been better if nothing was said.”