Deposed West Coast Regional Council chair Allan Birchfield has been kicked off council committees and banned from public-excluded sessions of the council after an investigation into leaked material involving former chief executive Heather Mabin.

He’s also been told to apologise to Mabin, change his behaviour and warned he won’t be back in the council’s good graces until it’s satisfied it can trust him again.

Newsroom revealed in April that Mabin had negotiated an exit deal involving compensation and Birchfield’s replacement as chair following months of tension between the two. 

Announcing the moves to ban Birchfield on Tuesday morning, council chair Peter Haddock said an independent barrister had carried out investigations into two code of conduct complaints.

One was from Buller councillor Frank Dooley alleging Birchfield had leaked the information about Mabin.

And the other was from Birchfield complaining Dooley had assaulted him at a meeting trying to wrench papers from his hands.

Haddock told a council meeting on Tuesday that the barrister had found no assault had occurred.

“On behalf of the council, I’d like to acknowledge the impact this allegation has had on Cr Dooley and note that this outcome clears his name – no wrongdoing occurred.”

The barrister had also concluded on the balance of probabilities that the Mabin leak came from Birchfield, which was a clear breach of her privacy and the council’s code of conduct, Haddock says.

“As a result the council has resolved as of today to remove Councillor Birchfield from all council committees and from the public-excluded parts of meetings until the council is satisfied trust is restored.”

Under the Local Government Act, the council can not remove Birchfield completely because he was democratically elected, Haddock says.

“He must also agree to cease [this behaviour] and apologise to Ms Mabin. Actions such as these are unacceptable.”

Police complaint

But Birchfield is ruling out any chance of that.

“I won’t be apologising and I won’t be changing my behaviour. I have done nothing wrong and I will always believe the people who pay for all this have a right to know what’s going on.”

The Greymouth gold miner is also doubling down on his grievance against Dooley.

“I’ve now laid a complaint of assault against him with the police. I held off, I gave them [the council] a chance but I don’t accept the barrister’s findings.

“I don’t believe it was independent. So I put it in the hands of the police a few days ago.”

Birchfield says the wording of the edict banning him from certain committees is unclear and he wants it clarified before the next meeting.

He sits on the council resource management committee, which handles the bulk of its business, and on the risk and assurance committee chaired by Dooley.

Birchfield has served on local councils for decades.

Made with the support of the Public Interest Journalism Fund

Lois Williams joins Newsroom after more than three decades as a senior Radio New Zealand journalist and more recently as a Local Democracy reporter on the West Coast.

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