Allegations Made Against Central City Councillor

Most of us reading this will know that during the recent local government elections in Christchurch, allegations of improper conduct (amounting to a form of sexual harrassment) were levelled against a sitting Councillor in the Christchurch Central ward. The allegations were first reported to the Mayor in May 2019 and were kept quiet at that time. After following through a process, a formal complaint was lodged with the Council to be investigated under their Code of Conduct, in September, and quickly became public knowledge. As the said Councillor was standing for re-election, although he was not named at that time, as other Councillors quickly affirmed they were not the person being referred to and put pressure on him to fess up, after a few days he did admit that he was the Councillor being referred to, but did not withdraw from the election campaign, however he did take a break from campaigning. Then about two weeks before the election, he resumed campaigning, but the voters in Central City Ward had the last word and he was ousted.

Following the elections the new Council CEO decided the Council did not have the power to discipline the former Councillor as he was no longer an elected member and dropped the process. The Mayor was open to allegations she had not dealt with the issue properly and put out a statement refuting the claims. Then an electoral appeal was launched by the Councillor’s supporters and he also said he would seek a judicial review of the Council process and there has even been talk of defamation action being launched. Now looking at the supporters group, most of them are members of the Richmond Residents and Business Association and one is a prominent central city property developer. The question must be asked as to why it is so important to them that this particular individual should have been elected, because apparently the sky is now going to fall in because he is out of office. The group in question has made some very serious accusations against the complainants and the support they have received from Canterbury Youth Workers Collective among others. It claims amongst other things:

  • The allegations were unsubstantiated
  • The council failed to carry out its code of conduct investigation quickly enough therefore helping to sabotage the Councillor’s re-election campaign
  • CCWC was guilty of releasing the allegations to the media as an act of sabotage against the Councillor’s campaign
  • Strong circumstantial evidence suggests the orchestration of a campaign of allegations and innuendo against the Councillor by the Labour candidate’s campaign and their supporters in Young Labour, Christchurch Youth Council and Canterbury Youth Workers Collective. This is alleged to include hacking his Wikipedia page, defacing election hoardings and putting Labour candidate billboards alongside the Councillor’s hoardings without permission from property owners.

When the original complaint was filed with the Council, the acting CEO engaged with retired High Court Associate Judge John Matthews to investigate the materiality of the complaints and his subsequent report found that two of the complaints were material and required a full investigation, and that one should be referred to another agency (apparently the Police).

This case raises some important issues which include the following:

  1. The Council’s Code of Conduct appears to be wholly inadequate. Once again the details have been left to the Council to implement, without any legislative oversight from governnment. This is important because there is a real difficulty in determining whether elected members are any type of employee and therefore whether the principles of employment law can apply to them. Even if they are subject to employment law, it appears the CCC has no ability to devise an appropriate policy for dealing with issues such as these, and that is a serious problem.
  2. The appeal is being brought by a group of people who appear to be flexing their political muscle. Developer Richard Peebles is known for vehemently attacking the Council’s “Accessible City” streetscape plans, whilst the primary interest of the Richmond Residents and Business Association appears to be in getting the Councillor to advocate for their opposition to inner suburban residential intensification. The question therefore is why the RRBA is not able to be represented by another candidate in the Central ward which Richmond falls within.
  3. The way the appeal has been conducted by this group of supporters is deeply concerning because it amounts to a heated and vehement attack on the original complainants. They are morally owed a fair hearing for their concerns, remembering that a retired High Court judge has found that two of the complaints should have been further investigated.
  4. The claim that the election campaign result should be overturned and the election re-run is a bridge too far. The electors of the Central ward made their choices and there is no guarantee that the Councillor would have been re-elected even if the issues had not come to public notice. There is a very large sense of entitlement being exhibited both by the supporters’ group and the Councillor himself, who has made much of how hard done by he has been over the issue.
  5. We note that in the similar case of former Labour MP Darren Hughes, he chose to resign from Parliament even though the investigation over his actions had not been concluded at the time, and did not seek re-election to Parliament, even after the Police declined to press charges against him. As noted above this contrasts a great deal with the Councillor’s attitude which is largely a sob story of self-entitlement. The actions of his supporters’ group have been similarly self-aggrandising including the claim mentioned above.
  6. Even if the Police choose not to press charges against the Councillor, there is still the court of public opinion concerning whether his actions were appropriate. Whilst the nature of the allegations and the bringing of them has damaged his reputation, the public must be able to have confidence that complainants in a situation such as this will have the right to fair representation and process. Otherwise it will be looking very much like the response to this issue to date is intended to intimidate other potential complainants from coming forward in any similar situation in the future. Even if the case went to court and the Councillor was acquitted, the situation of the case being brought against him would remain a matter of public record and it could not be suppressed, regardless of the outcome.
  7. Cases of sexual misconduct are notoriously hard to prosecute with a very low rate of police criminal action being taken against potential offenders and similarly a very low rate of conviction. These facts make it very difficult for the police should they choose to become involved in the case as they are required to consider whether the very high evidential standard needed to have a reasonable certaintly of a prosecution succeeding can be met.
  8. In our present day society, sexual harrassment (if this case can be so considered) is much less acceptable and even if the high evidential standad required to prosecute is not able to be achieved, this does not necessarily exonerate the Councillor from having behaved inappropriately.
  9. A high standard of behaviour is a reasonable expectation in dealings between an office holder such as a Councillor, and the general public. It is possible, regardless of the outcome, that such a power imbalance does exist and has not been taken seriously enough by Councillors’s supporters.

In our view the only sane conclusion which can be reached to date is that the process has yet to afford the original complainants any sense of being treated fairly and reasonably. This process at present appears to be largely skewed in favour of a vociferous group of supporters who are not really concerned with fairness so much as they are concerned about getting their Councillor re-elected. It remains to be seen whether the public can have any expectation that this case has been well handled either by the Councillor and his supporters, or by CCC

We shall be advocating, probably to tthe MP for Christchurch Central over our concerns in the situation as it has developed so far.