A shunned regional councillor who has been suspended from most of his duties for six months called a colleague a “bitch” and a “dirty farmer and a dirty politician”, while telling another he was a “lying so and so” and needed to “grow some nuts”.
Waikato Regional councillor Fred Lichtwark was the subject of three separate code of conduct complaints laid simultaneously against him at the end of last year and paired with the fact he had faced previous historic complaints resulted led to him being banned from sitting on council committee meetings and workshops until at least August.
But Lichtwark said an external investigation released to the Herald under the Local Government Official Information Act was biased and an attempt to slay his reputation and gag him from holding the council to account.
“You’ve only got a portion of it (the story) that makes it look like I’m the guilty party but actually if you dig a little bit deeper…”
The report found Lichtwark breached the council’s code of conduct in respect to one of the complaints, but only partially in regards to the two others.
Lichtwark was given a medical certificate deeming him medically unfit to work for a month due to stress and was unable to meet with the report author, former Hamilton mayor and employment lawyer Julie Hardaker, during the majority of her investigation.
The main breach was when he approached fellow co-constituent councillor Pamela Storey in the carpark after a meeting in Huntly and asked why she was ignoring him.
Storey claimed he was aggressive towards her and yelled at her for not returning his calls leaving her feeling scared and unsafe. She left in her car in tears.
However Lichtwark disagreed and claimed he only approached her to see why she wasn’t returning his calls as they were co-constituency councillors and said the only yelling and waving of arm was to get her attention from a distance.
After Storey refused to speak with him, he bumped into councillor Stu Husband who was also leaving the meeting and told him Storey was a “bitch”.
More than a week later he sent Storey a text that said: “Did you say I was aggressive towards you in the carpark while you were on your own? You lie you are a true worthless politician. You did a great job of back stabbing me when on leave not even as being chair given the common respect of waiting. And you expect respect in return? Yeah right dirty farmer and now dirty politician.”
Despite no other witnesses seeing the incident, Hardaker accepted Storey’s version of events and deemed his actions including the text were aggressive and/or abusive and/or offensive.
While Hardaker did not find enough evidence to support councillor Stu Husband’s main complaint that Lichtwark was harming the council’s reputation by telling a constituent council had disbanded the catchment advisory subcommittees, she deemed a voice message Lichtwark left on his phone about the carpark incident was a breach.
A transcript of the voice message showed him calling Husband a “lying so and so” and to “grow some nuts” in relation to his involvement.
“… You are a shocker, um if you want to front up and be a man I think you know you are never going to be re-elected, but you know really that is just dirty gutless behaviour.
“You are a liar… if you have an issue with me, be a man, grow some nuts and talk to me face to face, not squealy to the girls… you are a gutless so and so.”
While Hardaker, who listened to the message, said there was no yelling or shouting, the tone of the message was confrontational and threatening.
Lichtwark told the Herald the complaints had been blown out of proportion and related to “small misdemeanours”.
He said Husband had been spreading incorrect rumours regarding the carpark meeting and what he said to him in a private conversation which was what prompted him to leave the voice message. The voice message had not even been the reason for Husband’s code of conduct complaint but Hardaker had decided to make it one on his behalf, he said.
He claimed other councillors also had “dirty mouths” yet he was the only one being punished because he spoke out.
Only one part of the third complaint laid by councillor Barry Quayle relating to his contracts subcommittee was upheld.
Details of the third complaint have not yet been released by the council but related to concerns Lichtwark raised about how contracts were being signed off. In her final recommendation to the chair, Hardaker recommended the council increase its membership from three in order to improve transparency and oversight.
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