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Hamilton councillor Andrew Bydder’s rant: Mayors write to minister seeking national complaints process

Hamilton councillor Andrew Bydder’s rant: Mayors write to minister seeking national complaints process
Hamilton councillor Andrew Bydder’s rant: Mayors write to minister seeking national complaints process

Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark was asked to resign by his councillors last month over comments he made to the United Fire Brigades Association and previous use of the N-word. Instead, Clark said he would take a month off because he had not fully recovered from open heart surgery earlier this year.

Hamilton councillor Andrew Bydder stands by the comments he made. Photo / Supplied

In Hamilton, there has been a history of code of conduct complaints against elected members, including one against former West Ward councillor Siggi Henry for parking her signed campaign car in a disabled car park when she was late to a council event in 2019.

In 2017, then-Hamilton city councillor Mark Bunting apologised and stood down as deputy chair of a council committee – which brings higher remuneration – after sending an inappropriate explicit image to a journalist.

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Bydder was unapologetic for his submission, which he said he made several months ago in his own time as a ratepayer of Cambridge, because there had been poor consultation over the placement of a third bridge in the town.

He claimed the message gained attention solely because he was also a Hamilton councillor and questioned where the line was drawn between his private identity and public persona.

“Other anonymous people used rude words, and some have gone much further with threats of violence yet remain hidden from public view.

“My role was not included in my message, which was sent from my private address using my personal computer after hours directly to a Waipā website, about an issue affecting my private property.

“The simple fact is that I acted in a private capacity, protected by the Bill of Rights section 14 freedom of expression.”

However, Southgate said Bydder’s comments had nothing to do with free speech, which she supported.

“It is about professional standards and behaviour and conduct. Local government representation should be of the highest and most respectful nature. And we need a process to enable this.”

The letter to Brown expressed concern that councils did not have the tools to effectively deal with bad behaviour and asked for a consistent national approach to complaints.

“The fact is that some elected members can behave in such a way, with little consequence, because they enjoy a level of protection denied to most New Zealanders,” the letter said.

“Elected officials have no terms or conditions of employment, no employment contract, and no legally enforceable obligations apart from a requirement to attend a small number of meetings.”

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While councillors and mayors undertook an oath of office – publicly agreeing to their council’s code of conduct covering obscene language, written aggression, and abusive and bullying behaviour – councillor colleagues and ratepayers had few options when there was a clear breach.

“Code of conduct complaints are costly and time-consuming and offer little in terms of recourse.”

The mayors said Bydder’s behaviour and others around the country brought the entire local government sector into disrepute and would not be tolerated in any other workplace.

“We have already raised our concerns with Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) given the damage such behaviour is doing to our sector and to the well-being of elected members targeted by such abuse.

“To be clear, we are not suggesting individuals should not have the right to hold and express strong views. This is about the rights of others within a workplace and increasingly about the safety and well-being of those working in our sector.”

They called for an independent body to deal with disciplinary matters and said broadening the remit of the Local Government Commission to do so could be one option.

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Brown said in a statement he expected all elected members to meet their obligations under the Local Government Act.

“Councils are responsible for resolving conflicts around the governance table. I have no intentions to intervene in matters relating to Hamilton City Council.”

Bydder said he would welcome a disciplinary body if a similar tool was also available at no cost to ratepayers to hold councils to account for poor decisions they make on public amenities.

LGNZ president Sam Broughton said work was underway on a Conflict Resolution Service, acknowledging the code of conduct processes were a “blunt tool”.

The service would be targeted at preventing difficult relationships or governance issues around the council table from escalating.

– RNZ

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