Supporters of embattled former Christchurch City counselor Deon Swiggs have accused the campaign team of his political rival Jake McLellan of "orchestrating a campaign of allegations and innuendo" against him during the local election.
Swiggs was heard from his Central ward seat weeks after allegations emerged that he had sent "grossly inappropriate" messages to youngsters – claims he denies.
His backers in the election, including community leaders Hagley Guglietta and Evan Smith, filed a petition to Christchurch's District Court on Friday claiming the electoral process was compromised and that failings by the council had "sabotaged" his campaign.
McLellan said he "completely refutes" any suggestions of impropriety or wrongdoing.
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"I think the complaints led by Mr Swiggs' supporters are conspiracy theories."
McLellan represents People's Choice / Labor. His mother, Tracey McLellan, is Labor's senior vice president and has put her name forward to become the party's candidate in the Port Hills electorate for next year's general election.
The petition comes as the council revealed it will not hold a full investigation into the allegations after deciding to drop a code of conduct complaints process because Swiggs is no longer a counselor.
The Canterbury Youth Workers' Collective (CYWC), which made five complaints on behalf of four evils and a female – one of whom is 15 – said the young people were "disappointed" with the council's decision and had hoped the investigation would go ahead.
Swiggs indicated he will seek a judicial review in the High Court, branding the council's process "flawed from the start" and saying it left him "very few options to now clear my name".
"The impact this has had on me is immense. It has been traumatising, it has changed my life completely."
Under the Local Government Act, someone can submit an appeal if they have a complaint about the conduct of an election or poll.
The appeal, signed by 11 backers – Guglietta declined to name them but said they were a "diverse range of business and community leaders" – urged the court to investigate three issues:
– The apparent failure of the council to carry out its Code of Conduct quickly enough, allowing unidentified people to make "unsubstantiated allegations at the most critical point in the election campaign", in doing so sabotaging Swiggs' efforts to be re-elected;
– The release of the allegations to media through CYWC to a critical point in the election to sabotage Swiggs' campaign;
– "Strong circumstantial evidence" to suggest the "orchestration of a campaign of allegations and innuendo" against Swiggs by Jake McLellan's campaign team and their supporters in Young Labor, the Christchurch Youth Council and CYWC.
Swiggs' supporters claim this included hacking his Wikipedia page, defacing election hoardings, and putting McLellan's billboards alongside his without permission from property owners.
Guglietta, who nominated Swiggs for his council candidacy, said people in the community were "deeply unhappy" with how the issues had affected the election result.
"Our motivation is to uphold the principles of just and democratic process.
"The complaints have not been substantiated, there has been no independent interviewing undertaken of the complainants nor have they been cross-examined.
"That's bizarre in a country that prides itself on having a robust justice system."
Denying the accusations, McLellan said: "I think we have to be very careful as part of this process to make sure that we are not disregarding the complaints led by the young people."
Allegations against Swiggs first emerged in September.
Mayor Lianne Dalziel was approached in May by members of a youth group about their concerns, and a formal complaint was made to the council's acting chief executive, Mary Richardson, on September 4.
A preliminary assessment of the five complaints by retired High Court Judge John Matthews found two were material and required a full investigation.
Three others were dismissed as they related to Swiggs' conduct outside his term of office. One, which allegedly happened in 2013 when the complainant was 15, was referred to "another agency", which appears to be police.
Matthews put the council's investigation on hold until after the local elections on October 12, and Swiggs lost his seat to McLellan.
In a letter to Swiggs' lawyer Phil Shamy on Thursday, council chief executive Dawn Baxendale said while two complaints warranted investigating, action should only be taken against sitting counselors and that there is "no meaningful provision of the code" allowing that to occur.
Baxendale also said the code had no provision for quash Matthews' finding and his report remained valid.
The "finding of materiality was not finding that the complaints were coming," she said, and the council is now altering its Code of Conduct process after the scandal revealed it was inappropriate for dealing with such complaints.
Swiggs questioned why the complaints were not dealt with when first raised in May, saying: "If the Code of Conduct was not considered fit for purpose then, why was it considered appropriate in the final weeks of the local elections campaign? That decision derailed my election bid. "
He said there was "growing evidence" the motive for the authority's decision to investigate the complaints was political.
"The whole process dealt me a hand that was unjust and left me in an impossible position at a critical time in an election cycle.
"This was an election that many expected me to comfortably win; the damage this did to my campaign is evident in the result. What the council essentially did was lob a grenade and run away."