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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Timms on agenda

Southland Times journalist Evan Harding rang me yesterday for comment about where the council was with their 'chairman' issue. I was happy to bring him up to speed with developments, believing that it's important that the public 'gets a look in' at what councillors are doing, and knowing that many of my fellow councillors are very reluctant to speak with 'the media'. In response, he wrote the following article for today's ST front page.

The fate of beleaguered Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms could be decided at an extraordinary meeting of the council on January 24.

Ms Timms was last month outed for making a hoax phone call to a Cue television talkback show.

Pretending to be a struggling mother of two called Ruby whose partner had been laid off at Tiwai, she repeatedly grilled Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt during the live television show about the city council's funding of the Auckland-to-Bluff yacht race.

When confronted about the hoax call, she told The Southland Times it was a practical joke.

Her actions were widely condemned by Environment Southland and Invercargill city councillors. Ms Timms subsequently took six weeks' paid leave until her future as chairwoman was decided.

Acting Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell yesterday said the January 24 meeting was to discuss the Environment Southland leadership.

He intended to move a motion of confidence in Ms Timms to enable councillors to express their views and take a vote.

If the majority of councillors voted for the motion, Ms Timms would remain as chairwoman; but if they voted against it another meeting would have to be held in 14 days' time and the vote would be put again, he said.

When asked why a motion of confidence in Ms Timms would be put and not one of no confidence, Mr Horrell said it would be improper for him as acting chairman to move a vote of no confidence.

A vote of confidence would have the same effect, he said.

Environment Southland councillor Robert Guyton said yesterday a vote of confidence was an inappropriate vehicle for the council to express its disapproval of Ms Timms' actions.

Legal advice suggested a vote of confidence had never been used in local body politics in New Zealand and the usual process was to move a vote of no confidence, he said.

Mr Guyton said he would listen to the views of the councillors around the table before deciding which way to vote, "but at this stage I feel there needs to be a change".

He believes Ms Timms should have taken the opportunity to stand down when she was "encouraged to do the honourable thing" by councillors at a meeting last month to discuss her actions.

She refused to stand down, Mr Guyton said, and it was her idea to take six weeks' leave.

"I don't think her position is tenable following her public dishonesty and I think she has jeopardised the relationship between the council and other [Southland] councils, particularly the Invercargill City Council."

Her dishonesty had also jeopardised the relationship between Environment Southland and the public, he said.

Mr Guyton said he would not be going for the chairmanship if Ms Timms was sacked, but he believed several councillors could fill the role very well, including Jan Riddell, "who enjoys excellent relationships with all of the agencies around Southland and is entirely trustworthy".

It was too early to say whether Ms Timms had the numbers to retain her position, Mr Guyton said.

Environment Southland councillor Ross Cockburn, who said last month that Ms Timms remained an excellent chairwoman, yesterday declined to say which way he would vote at the meeting.

The Southland Times ran an informal online poll last month asking readers whether Ms Timms should remain chairwoman of Environment Southland, with 59 voting yes and 237 voting no.

Ms Timms could not be contacted yesterday.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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