Waikato Regional Council President Russ Rimmington ousted in vote

Russ Rimmington has been named chairman of the Waikato Regional Council after eight out of 14 councilors voted to remove him at a meeting on Monday afternoon.

Rimmington said the result was disappointing. Although “democracy has spoken”, he later said he intended to consider a judicial review of the decision, based on advice from prominent constitutional and administrative lawyer Mai Chen.

The vote came after a troubled period for Rimmington’s leadership following his comments at an online forum about Three Waters reforms last year. At the forum, he spoke of ‘Maori’ taking control of the water and how farmers and horticulturists could be at their ‘full disposal’.

The decision to overthrow him came despite the fact that he issued a public apology for his comments and has since been involved in training on the Treaty of Waitangi.

After his ousting, councilors voted 11 to 3 to replace Rimmington with Finance Committee Chairman Barry Quayle, who was appointed by Rimmington and ultimately the sole nominee.

Quayle, the former “face of Fieldays”, said unity would be a big priority for him during the remaining months of the council’s term.

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“It’s important going forward that this council acts as one,” Quayle said. He had actually voted against removing Rimmington, saying he wanted to see more evidence of the basis for concerns about him.

Cr Barry Quayle is the new chairman of the Waikato Regional Council (file photo).

Tom Lee / Stuff

Cr Barry Quayle is the new chairman of the Waikato Regional Council (file photo).

After the meeting, Quayle said he had not actively lobbied for the position. When asked why he thought he was chosen, he replied, “Because I showed good judgment and the ability to be fair and independent.”

One complaint about Rimmington, who has an outspoken style, is that he sometimes failed to clearly reflect the board’s position.

Asked if he aimed to be more diplomatic and measured, Quayle said local government faced a series of big problems.

“It’s important that we know what the council’s position is.”

At a meeting in December, Quayle had agreed that there were concerns about the clarity with which Rimmington reflected the views of the council.

Rimmington said after Tuesday that guidance provided by Chen to the council over the weekend indicated he would have grounds to seek judicial review of a vote to overturn it if Councilman Fred Lichtwark votes. Chen also spoke ahead of the meeting in an excluded public session.

Lichtwark, who openly opposed Rimmington, was one of eight councilors who voted to remove him.

Rimmington said he is considering his options for judicial review, including taking on the cost of up to $100,000 through crowdfunding.

“So I’m not giving up yet”

Prior to the vote, councilor Jennifer Nickel said the chair’s role is to be the “voice of the board” who should “stick to the script” when it comes to the board’s position.

Ngā Hau E Wha’s adviser, Tipa Mahuta, also raised concerns about the views Rimmington was publicly reflecting and questioned his willingness to engage with Māori before having to apologize to them for his remarks.

She said her alleged lack of commitment was part of the reason “this council hasn’t had mana in my community for this term.”

Councilor Angela Strange said the vote was about more than Three Waters or Rimmington’s clashes with Lichtwark. “It is clear that we have lost faith in our president.”

Cr Denis Tegg has slammed Rimmington's 'divisive style' (file photo).

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Cr Denis Tegg has slammed Rimmington’s ‘divisive style’ (file photo).

Councilor Denis Tegg spoke of Rimmington’s “divisive style” and said it was not always clear what views he presented when speaking publicly.

“It was never about Three Waters,” he said, rather a failure by Rimmington to reflect majority opinion at times.

Rimmington had been pushing people back recently when they wanted answers, councilor Stu Kneebone said. “It’s been a trend for some time now. We simply cannot continue on the current trajectory.

Councilors Hugh Vercoe (left) and Stu Husband voiced their support for Rimmington (file photo)

Tom Lee / Stuff

Councilors Hugh Vercoe (left) and Stu Husband voiced their support for Rimmington (file photo)

However, a number of councilors have spoken out against the Rimmington roll, including Hugh Vercoe with nearly three decades in local government. “Today is the saddest day in 27 years in local government,” he said.

“What is the crime of which Russ is guilty?” »

Councilor Kathy White said she felt the vote was “a political decision rather than something that can be substantiated by evidence”.

Councilor Stu Husband described the proceedings as “a puppet court”.

Rimmington himself said “I may not be perfect”, but he felt he was speaking and not “speaking in two languages”.

Elna M. Lemons