In a tumultuous start during the newly-sworn in Howick Local Board’s first official business, a board member has quit, the former vice-chairman lost her job and two board members decried behind-the-scenes politicking and made an accusation of bullying.
Just minutes after the board was sworn in, and votes for the new chairman were made, Lucy Schwaner walked out after narrowly missing out on winning the chairmanship. Her husband MP Jami-Lee Ross followed close behind a clearly upset Ms Schwaner.
Within half an hour, she had sent out a media release officially resigning as a member of the Howick Local Board.
In the statement, Ms Schwaner says she resigned as she has no confidence in the chairmanship of David Collings.
“I sought the chair’s role on the Howick Local Board to help to restore public confidence in the Board after three years of an unprofessional leadership style that has not served Howick well.
“My resignation takes effect immediately. Attached is a copy of my resignation letter.”
Ms Schwaner says she sent an email to all members of the Howick Local Board last Sunday outlining why she sought change in the leadership of the Howick Local Board in the interests of Howick.
In the media statement she also thanks her supporters for the support they gave her in the recent elections.
“I am sorry that I will not be there to serve them, however the only honourable thing for me to do is resign given I have no confidence in David Collings as chair.”
In her resignation letter to Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town, Ms Schwaner says that under the chairmanship of David Collings, “the Howick Local Board has become a toxic environment to work in”.
After her departure from the Uxbridge Theatre, where the ceremony was taking place, the newly-sworn in members nominated former deputy chairman Adele White and Katrina Bungard for the post on the new board.
Bungard easily took the vote in a show of hands to become the new deputy.
Then member Jim Donald stood to declare that Mr Ross had phoned three people in the community in a bid to have them sway Mr Donald to vote for Ms Schwaner. Mrs Bungard also stood up to denounce bullying.
Meanwhile, Mr Collings told the Times he was saddened it had come to this.
“To be honest I’m actually disappointed…that she’s taken this action … because Lucy’s made a huge commitment to Local Government in the last nine years.
“I think it’s a bit of a let down to the community (who voted her in). The electorate vote for the nine people that you have to work with – I’m more than happy to work with Lucy. She has worked very hard. It’s sad she’s had to take this avenue.”
Regarding the vote which saw him elected as chair and prompted her walk-out, he said he was surprised she resigned because she wasn’t elected as chair.
“Obviously it’s (the vote for chair) about majority, that’s how democracy works,” Mr Collings said.
“It’s just disappointing it’s come to this.”
As to the statements made by Mr Donald and Mrs Bungard: “What I have heard that’s going on…the type of bullying and harassment…has no place in Local Government,” he told the Times.
“I’ve never seen anything like this kind of carry-on in 18 years (in government). I totally understand where those members (Donald/Bungard) are coming from.”
National MP for Botany, Jami-Lee Ross, is unequivocally backing his wife.
“I’m proud of Lucy for having the courage to stand up to some pretty unprofessional antics on the board the past three years,” he said in a statement to the Times.
“She has had the integrity to walk away when she could no longer tolerate the behaviour of a number of board members. She would be a hypocrite for continuing to work with someone she has no confidence in.
“Of course I support my wife.”
Mr Ross also spoke up for Mrs White.
“It’s very sad to see that the hard-working and popular Adele White has now had her position removed from her because she supported Lucy.”
And he didn’t hold back about comments made by the two board members at tonight’s ceremony.
“As for Jim, I learnt a long time ago to take what he says with a grain of salt. I haven’t had a single conversation with Jim about this,” Mr Ross said.
“I also wouldn’t give much credence to what Ms Bungard says. She has frequently complained to us about Mr Collings lack of professionalism.”
How everyone voted:
Chair: For David Collings: 5 – appointed chair
Bob Wichman, Garry Boles, Jim Donald, Katrina Bungard, David Collings (note the rule says they can nominate and vote for themselves)
Chair: For Lucy Schwaner: 4 – misses out
Adele White, John Spiller, Peter Young, Lucy Schwaner
Deputy chair: For Katrina Bungard: 5 – appointed deputy
David Collings, Bob Wichman, Jim Donald, Garry Boles, Katrina Bungard
Deputy chair: For Adele White: 3 – misses out
Peter Young, John Spiller, Adele White, (Lucy Schwaner not present)
By: Nick Krause and Scott Yeoman