Todd Barclay may be sitting in Parliament’s Koru club, waiting to depart, but National’s hunt for his replacement is flying into some turbulent airspace.
Nominations for the party’s Clutha-Southland candidacy have closed. They include John Prendergast, former CEO of the Community Trust of Southland (CTOS).
Prendergast mysteriously quit a month ago after 20 years in the job, saying only that the trustees had resolved unanimously that they wanted him to resign.
The Chair of CTOS is Margo Hishon who also happens to be the Electorate chair of National’s Clutha-Southland branch.
She replaced Stuart Davie, who resigned in February 2016 after Barclay lied to him over recording electorate staffer Glenys Dickson.
Hishon will sit on the pre-selection panel which will decide if Prendergast makes it through to the final five.
Newsroom understands there are nine candidates seeking the nomination to replace Todd Barclay, who will leave Parliament at the end of the term.
Prendergast supporters want Hishon to stand down from the pre-selection panel over what they see as a conflict of interest, but National Party HQ is unlikely to enforce that.
Hishon has steadfastly refused to answer questions on Prendergast’s departure from the CTOS.
Prendergast told the Southland Times he had never been provided with the reasons for why the trustees wanted him out.
Just before Prendergast’s resignation was confirmed, nine former trustees, including three former chairs and two former deputy chairs, called on associate finance minister Amy Adams to investigate the CTOS.
In a letter to Adams dated May 29, the group said:
“The Trust, a community funder, had been fortunate to have the exemplary and highly regarded Prendergast as chief executive since 1997.
“He was a person of the highest integrity and widely recognised as a leader in philanthropy.
“To our astonishment, it appears that the current trustees have decided that the CEO must exit his position.
The processes followed have been most irregular, with the CEO having been neither sacked nor accused of any wrong doing.”
Adams declined to investigate, saying she had had advice from the Department of Internal Affairs that the information supplied by the complainants did not meet the very high threshold for an investigation.
On July 6, Adams was questioned in the house by Labour’s finance spokesman Grant Robertson. She was asked if she didn’t want to investigate the CTOS because “those who drove the chief executive out” had close links to the National Party and that CTOS chair Hishon was also chair of the Clutha-Southland branch.
“I completely refute that” Adams replied.
But Adams told Parliament she had written to Hishon and made it very clear that she expected high standards of Governance from the trust.
She said she had also written to the complainants asking them if they had anything further they wanted to bring to her attention.
Stuff.co.nz has reported the nine former trustees are now in the process of drafting another letter to Adams with more information as they push for an investigation.
On the face of it, Prendergast is a strong candidate for Barclay’s seat, which before Barclay was held by Prime Minister Bill English.
He is well known in Invercargill and throughout Southland.
The father of three is a former chair of Philanthropy New Zealand and the Catholic Board of Management.
He also held senior roles at Tranz Rail and Power Net before he joined CTOS.
If Prendergast makes it through the pre-selection, it could come down to a two-horse race with Dunedin’s Hamish Walker.
Walker, who another local politician described as “a grown-up Young Nat” stood against Labour’s Clare Curran in Dunedin South in the 2014 election.
Curran increased her personal majority but Walker did well in boosting National’s party vote.
Surprisingly, he did not seek the candidacy in Dunedin South this time around.
Walker, who is regarded as affable and confident, is said to get on well with some of the key players in National’s Otago Southland division.
Watching with more than a passing interest will be Bill English. The Prime Minister, who is currently holidaying in his old stomping ground, had his credibility dented by the Barclay affair.
He will want this selection race to go smoothly and this time come up with the right candidate for the blue-ribbon seat.