23 Jul 2014

ERA told of sacked woman's letter

6:39 pm on 23 July 2014

The Employment Relations Authority has reserved its decision in the case of a Whangarei District Council employee sacked for nominating a mayoral candidate.

Jan Walters, the former assistant to the chief executive, has taken a case to the Employment Relations Authority and is suing for wrongful dismissal after losing her job in September last year. She is seeking re-instatement and compensation.

Whangarei District Council chief executive Mark Simpson (in white shirt) at a council meeting.

Whangarei District Council chief executive Mark Simpson (in white shirt) at a council meeting. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Ms Walters told the hearing on Wednesday that she signed the nomination form for her former boss, the ex-mayor Stan Semenoff, after he said it was fine for her to do so. She said she signed it not as a council employee, but as a private citizen.

Ms Walters acknowledged there had been friction between her and chief executive Mark Simpson, and that she had described him in a private letter as evil, sick, nasty and the ultimate Teflon - where nothing sticks.

Mr Simpson has faced questions on why he sacked Jan Walters while letting another employee,

personal adviser Ford Watson, do publicity for the mayoral candidate he allegedly preferred, the council's finance chair Warwick Syers.

The council's lawyer, Samantha Turner, on Wednesday questioned Ms Walters about the letter she wrote to Mr Simpson's new personal assistance eight months after she was sacked. In it she said she was well over working with him, and did not rate him as a manager, leader or a man with any professionalism.

Mr Simpson on Tuesday agreed with authority member Robin Arthur that letting Mr Watson work on Mr Syers campaign, but sacking Ms Walters left him open to allegations of bias and double standards. However, he denied telling Mr Watson that he wanted Mr Syers to win the election.

Mr Simpson said he dismissed Ms Walters because he and acting mayor Phil Halse lost confidence in her after she signed the mayoral nomination form for Mr Semenoff. He said Mr Halse was taking confidential council work home, as he no longer trusted Ms Walters.

In his evidence, Mr Watson said Mr Simpson had told him he wanted Mr Syers to win the mayoral election.

Mr Watson confirmed he asked Mr Simpson in May for approval to work on Mr Syers' mayoral campaign and said Mr Simpson asked no questions and gave his immediate consent - with a warning not to do the work on council time or equipment.