In a shock exit, Vincent Community Board deputy chairman Russell Garbutt has quit local government.
Mr Garbutt announced his immediate resignation last Friday, citing health and mayoral interference among the reasons for his departure four months out from the October local government elections.
The final straw came in the form of a code of conduct complaint he laid against Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan on April 28.
The complaint centred around an email Mr Cadogan sent to RNZ presenter Mani Dunlop regarding Mr Garbutt’s response to an opinion piece published in the Otago Daily Times about the use of Te Reo on air by columnist Joe Bennett.
The email ‘‘outed’’ Mr Garbutt as a community board deputy chairman and stated the view expressed was not reflective of the Central Otago District Council.
An article on website The Spinoff containing tweets from the RNZ presenter Mr Cadogan emailed contained incorrect information and was composed in a way to bring him in to disrepute, Mr Garbutt said.
He received multiple messages as a result, he said.
In a statement released to various media, Mr Garbutt said the mayor’s conduct was ‘‘designed to intimidate . . . to the point of bullying’’ and ‘‘constrict freedom of speech in a subject unrelated to the council or community board.’’
He also said council chief executive Sanchia Jacobs shared the nature of the complaint with the Vincent Community Board chairman and at least one council staff member.
In a response tothe complaint provided to the The News by Mr Garbutt, Mr Cadogan confirmed he sent the email to Ms Dunlop, which coincidentally fell on the same day the council voted to formalise its relationship with mana whenua.
Mr Cadogan said he was aware Ms Dunlop faced criticism for her use of Te Reo on air and Mr Bennett’s column had left him disheartened.
Seeing an elected member sharing support for Mr Bennett’s views, he ‘‘wanted to reach out to balance the conversation’’.
He did not believe an elected member could take a hat on and off when it suited them and was aware when sending the email to Ms Dunlop he would potentially damage the relationship with Mr Garbutt.
He did not intend to bring Mr Garbutt into disrepute, and his letter to the editor, not Mr Cadogan’s email, opened him up to criticism.
In response to Mr Garbutt’s resignation, Mr Cadogan told the The News the decision was ‘‘disappointing.’’
‘‘In relation to his claims relating to my action that he says in part led to this decision, Russell laid a code of conduct complaint against me in relation to this four weeks ago.
‘‘I believe it would be inappropriate of me to comment further while we await the outcome of that investigation.’’
Vincent Community Board chairman Martin McPherson said he was disappointed Mr Garbutt felt forced to resign.
‘‘I’m a bit unsure if there is the factor of his health, frustration with processes or a combination of both.’’
Mr Garbutt had tried his best to contribute in a big way and he wish him the best in future endeavours, Mr McPherson said.
Ms Jacobs echoed the disappointment of Mr Cadogan and Mr McPherson.
‘‘He has been a very committed member of the Vincent Community Board and I wish him well with whatever he decides to do in the future.’’
In terms of next steps, Wellington› based lawyer Steph Dyhrberg has been engaged to assess Mr Garbutt’s complaint, Mr Cadogan’s conduct and response to the complaint, and to prepare a report.
The report is not expected to be prepared until after June 10.