$9k to in­ves­ti­gate ‘sex­ist’ re­marks

Com­ments to fe­male coun­cil­lor found to breach code of con­duct

The New Zealand Herald - - News - Nikki Pre­ston

AWaikato district coun­cil­lor ac­cused of mak­ing “in­tim­i­dat­ing, over­bear­ing and sex­ist” com­ments to a fe­male col­league in a tea break was made to apol­o­gise fol­low­ing an al­most $9000 ratepayer-funded in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Sources have al­leged that Huntly coun­cil­lor Frank McI­nally made the of­fen­sive re­marks, how­ever McI­nally has de­nied the claim.

Waikato District Coun­cil is re­fus­ing to re­lease de­tails but the Her­ald un­der­stands Whanga­marino coun­cil­lor Jan Sedg­wick com­plained to Mayor Al­lan San­son that McI­nally had made highly of­fen­sive com­ments to her in the coun­cil­lors’ lounge in March.

She claimed the com­ments — which the Her­ald un­der­stands were said in the pres­ence of other elected coun­cil­lors and the mayor — breached the coun­cil’s code of con­duct. Sedg­wick con­firmed to the

Her­ald she had made a com­plaint about com­ments which were in her view “badtem­pered, puerile, sex­ist and of a bul­ly­ing na­ture”.

She would not re­peat the ex­act words used or con­firm who had said them.

“They were nasty, threat­en­ing, vin­dic­tive re­marks that I’m not go­ing to give any more oxy­gen. I’m just not go­ing to re­peat them — I don’t even want them in my head.

“Coun­cil­lors were dis­cussing an is­sue in an in­for­mal set­ting when one coun­cil­lor made re­marks di­rected specif­i­cally at me which were of­fen­sive and de­mean­ing to women in gen­eral, as well as be­ing per­son­ally abu­sive and bul­ly­ing.

“I was stunned that some­one would make re­marks like that and think that was ac­cept­able or ap­pro­pri­ate. It’s not the way we con­duct our­selves as coun­cil­lors and I was very shocked at the in­tim­i­dat­ing, over­bear­ing and sex­ist na­ture of them.”

Tomp­kins Wake lawyer Mark Ham­mond was ap­pointed to in­ves­ti­gate and ruled the coun­cil­lor’s re­marks had breached the coun­cil’s code of con­duct.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which in­volved in­ter­view­ing some elected mem­bers and pro­duc­ing a re­port, cost $8740.

The Her­ald has learned that the coun­cil­lor, un­der­stood to be McI­nally, was made to apol­o­gise in the same in­for­mal set­ting the com­ments were made and his apol­ogy was ac­cepted.

Sedg­wick said she could not name the coun­cil­lor be­cause Waikato District Coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive Gavin Ion had specif­i­cally asked her not to after the coun­cil­lor in­volved re­quested pri­vacy.

How­ever, Sedg­wick and other coun­cil­lors ap­proached by the Her­ald did not agree with the coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to with­hold de­tails of the com­plaint.

“I am very con­fi­dent that my fel­low coun­cil­lors hold the same de­gree of val­ues and pro­fes­sion­al­ism as I do, but clearly we have one out­lier who chooses to hide be­hind an imag­i­nary cloak of in­vis­i­bil­ity that un­for­tu­nately casts doubts on the in­tegrity of oth­ers,” Sedg­wick said.

“I think if you’ve done some­thing you should own up to it. Even if you’ve done some­thing that you’re ashamed of.”

When ap­proached by the

Her­ald, McI­nally said the chief ex­ec­u­tive “was sort­ing ev­ery­thing out”.

“Who said it was me? Do you be­lieve ev­ery­thing you are told?” When asked di­rectly if it was him, McI­nally replied: “Not that I’m aware of.” He de­clined to com­ment fur­ther. “I’m not go­ing to con­firm or deny it.”

When the Her­ald pointed out he had al­ready de­nied it, he replied: “That’s what I said, it doesn’t mean any­thing, end of story.”

Waikato District Coun­cil con­firmed in a Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Of­fi­cial In­for­ma­tion and Meet­ings Act re­quest that a code of con­duct com­plaint made in March had been up­held fol­low­ing an ex­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

It has re­peat­edly re­fused to re­lease de­tails about the com­plaint, in­clud­ing the coun­cil­lors in­volved. Ion said coun­cil had with­held the names and na­ture of the com­plaint be­cause elected mem­bers were en­ti­tled to per­sonal pri­vacy.

He also de­fended his de­ci­sion to hire an ex­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tor as “ap­pro­pri­ate”.

There was noth­ing in the coun­cil’s leg­is­la­tion or code that said com­plaints had to be re­leased, he said.

San­son said he was in the room when the com­ments were made, but did not “nec­es­sar­ily” hear them.

San­son de­clined to name the coun­cil­lor be­cause they had asked that their name not be re­leased.

“There are rights . . . You’ve got to be fair. This is nat­u­ral jus­tice for that per­son.

“I’m not go­ing to com­ment on whether they should fess up or not. At the end of the day it’s up to them and their con­science.”

San­son said it was the chief ex­ec­u­tive’s de­ci­sion not to re­lease the coun­cil­lor’s name and he had to ac­cept it.

He did, how­ever, add that the com­plaint was not about him.

Jan Sedg­wick made the com­plaint.

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