Waikato council shells out almost $9k to investigate sexist and bullying remarks

By Nikki Preston

Waikato District Council is refusing to release details.
Waikato District Council is refusing to release details.

A Waikato 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 "bad-tempered, 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."

Waikato district councillor Jan Sedgwick complained about sexist, offensive and bullying remarks made to her by another councillor.
Waikato district councillor Jan Sedgwick complained about sexist, offensive and bullying remarks made to her by another councillor.

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.

Mayor 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.

- NZ Herald

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