Ombudsman backs Hutt City Council’s handling of councillor Chris Milne’s ‘poor behaviour’

Councillor Chris Milne was ordered to apologise in 2020, but refused. Photo / File

A watchdog has backed Hutt City Council’s handling of one of its councillors’ “poor behaviour”.

Councillor Chris Milne was found to have committed two serious breaches of the council’s code of conduct in 2020 and was ordered to apologise – though he refused.

Milne complained to the ombudsman’s office over how the matter was handled.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier released his decision this week, broadly rejecting all of Milne’s complaints.

“Having considered all the issues raised, I have now formed the final opinion that the council has not acted unreasonably,” he said in the decision.

The complaints were lodged on Milne’s behalf by law firm Franks Ogilvie, and included about six points.

Milne was ordered to apologise in 2020 after an investigation found he made material breaches of the council’s code of conduct – and that his actions could be detrimental to the council’s reputation, bringing it into disrepute.

But he told the Herald at the time he was refusing to apologise after taking legal advice on the matter.

The breaches relate to two phone calls he made.

One was about a potential land deal that could result in money being redirected into Mitchell Park Hutt Valley Tennis Facility.

Milne’s wife is the president of Hutt Valley Tennis, but neither have a pecuniary interest in the organisation.

The other related to when Milne rang Waste Management’s Lower North Island general manager David Howie during a live tender for the council’s waste collection services.

Howie told the investigation he began to feel uncomfortable about the conversation getting close to crossing the boundaries.

Mayor Campbell Barry was satisfied with the ombudsman's decision. Photo / Georgina Campbell
Mayor Campbell Barry was satisfied with the ombudsman’s decision. Photo / Georgina Campbell

It found Milne’s call was inappropriate while there was a live tender process and risked Howie gleaning information that potentially gave Waste Management an advantage over other prospective tenderers.

The deputy mayor laid complaints about Milne’s conduct and after multiple attempts to resolve the matter informally, the council engaged an independent investigator, who found Milne had committed serious breaches of the council’s code of conduct.

In Milne’s complaint to the ombudsman, he said more should have been done to resolve the matter informally, but Boshier said it was reasonable for the mayor to reach the view it was unlikely to be successful.

Milne also claimed the mayor had actively encouraged councillors to contact waste companies, and that this information wasn’t given to the investigator.

But Boshier said it was clear from the mayor’s communications this was not what had happened.

Other complaints included that it was unreasonable for the mayor and chief executive to not dismiss the complaint, that the chief executive’s full report to council on the matter omitted important details, and that the chief executive shouldn’t have advised council it had the option to seek reimbursement of costs from Milne.

Boshier rejected all of the claims.

Mayor Campbell Barry told the Herald the report confirmed they acted “entirely appropriately in holding instances of poor behaviour to account”.

“Thankfully that hasn’t stopped us from getting on with the job and delivering what our residents expect.”

Barry was satisfied with the findings, which he said showed they’d acted “entirely reasonably”.

Milne told the Herald it had been a “long process” and he did not want to comment on the findings.

He said there were “a lot of holes in the process” and “there’s really no point in debating it further”.

Milne is not standing for re-election this year.

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