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Sincere Apology Made By Regional Council Chair

Waikato Regional Council Chair Russ Rimmington has been censured by elected members for comments he made during a recent Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) webinar on the Three Waters reform.

It followed a letter of complaint about the comments to Waikato Regional Council from Bonita Bigham, chairperson of LGNZ’s Te Maruata Rōpu Whakahaere.

During the final meeting of council for the year, Cr Rimmington apologised “without any qualifications or reservations from the bottom of my heart” for the “disrepectful and inappropriate remarks I made”.

Due to a conflict of interest declared at the start of the meeting by Cr Rimmington, the deliberations and vote on a notice of motion on the matter were chaired by councillor Barry Quayle.

During the meeting it was agreed that staff and governors had worked hard over a number of years to build and foster meaningful and respectful relationships with iwi partners.

But there was concern Cr Rimmington’s comments had damaged these relationships which could have far-reaching reputational impacts for all councillors, staff and Waikato Regional Council.

Councillors unanimously recorded their “serious concerns with the offensive comments” and requested that Cr Rimmington reflect on his responsibilities as chair, and the expectations conferred upon him.

Councillors also agreed unanimously that all elected members would actively raise their understanding about the Treaty of Waitangi and the responsibilities of Waikato Regional Council for the rohe.

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With respect to Cr Rimmington’s “racist comments”, the majority of councillors agreed that their decisions in the meeting amounted to “censure and lack of confidence” in him and that “significantly improved performance” needed to be demonstrated. The four councillors who abstained from the vote were Stu Husband, Kathy White, Pamela Storey and Hugh Vercoe.

Councillors also requested that a formal written apology go to Te Maruata Rōpu Whakahaere, Waikato Regional Council’s iwi partners and Local Government New Zealand. This had already been done. In addition, councillors requested written apologies to Waikato Regional Council and Māori.

With regard to apologising to Māori more generally it was acknowledged that might be challenging, so Cr Rimmington would be supported by councillors Kataraina Hodge and Tipa Mahuta.

Councillors were also concerned there had been a misrepresentation of their agreed views on the Three Waters Reform during the October webinar. So they resolved that Cr Rimmington “makes a reasonable effort to ensure that he fairly and professionally represents the council’s formal position statements”.

In wrapping up the deliberations, Cr Quayle said there was a need for a rebuild. “This is not about punishment, it’s about mana enhancing that we have to be looking at. It’s about Waikato Regional Council’s reputation and trust.

“To restore this, we need to operate as a team,” he said.

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