“I WAS doing his job.”
Those are the words of departing Invercargill Deputy Mayor Toni Biddle.
Ms Biddle said Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt had tears in his eyes as he told her he envied her decision to quit.
Two months before she told Sir Tim she was resigning, throwing a beleaguered Invercargill City Council (ICC) into more disarray, she was in hospital after suffering a panic attack.
She said the attack was brought on by the “toxic and unhealthy” environment at ICC and the strain of doing the mayor’s job for him.
Now, after resigning, she said there was a leadership vacuum at ICC and the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) needed to intervene and install a commissioner.
Sir Tim said he did not cry when Ms Biddle told him about her departure, but did not deny making comments about envying her.
“It has been a concerted effort to make out that I’m a crying baby and it’s not true. It takes a whole lot for me to cry.”
He admitted it would be nice to have a long holiday, but that did not mean he would consider standing down.
Ms Biddle did not want to go into specifics about her panic attack, but said being deputy mayor had affected her health, and resigning was a relief.
The death of her father last month had also highlighted the importance of taking care of herself and her family.
“I’m not ashamed to admit that I was incredibly stressed at that time. I knew then that I shouldn’t be there.
“My health was being affected more than I realised, so that was the turning point for me.”
She said she still respected Sir Tim, but believed he was tired.
Ms Biddle was clear about what this meant: “I was doing his job.”
She believed despite Sir Tim being exhausted, he would still stand in the next election due to his financial difficulties.
“He is in a position where he has been sued by another councillor, which has meant he has legal fees… I think he is in a position he can’t [stand down].
“I completely understand that but what happens is that the community now doesn’t benefit from that because we need a strong leader.”
The lack of one was the cause of many council problems, she said.
“What happens is when you have a leadership void, there’s a vacuum and everybody tries to fill that void and that’s where the trouble starts because you have no clear leader.”
It was time for a commissioner to be brought in because the dysfunction meant important decisions were not being made, she said.
“We are not focusing on the issues. We focus on individual personalities and then there’s nothing being decided.
“A commissioner needs to be put in and all of us need to step down or step away [from ICC].”
Sir Tim said leadership was “a funny thing”.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh you are a hopeless leader’ – but it’s not quite that simple.
“I looked up on Google, what is leadership? It was 67 million hits on what was leadership.
“No-one really knows – that is the conclusion I’ve come to,” Sir Tim said.
“They said you are a leader because you are the mayor. And I say: no. It is not like that.
“The mayor is just a figurehead. The leader in the council is the chief executive and senior staff.
“We are elected members [and] do not have a lot of power. Everyone thinks you run the city… but it is far different to what is portrayed in the media.”
Sir Tim denied his financial situation was the reason for standing again as mayor.
He said former councillor Karen Arnold, who sued him unsuccessfully, left the council, was declared bankrupt and was ” leading a normal life”.
“That could have been an option… but I still love the job.
“When you are the subject of pressure and constant criticism and people trying to remove you, my reaction is to dig my toes in and make it even more difficult for them.
“I’ve been through a lot of battles, been arrested 33 times and jailed twice. It would take a hell of a lot of pressure to make me leave my job.”
Sir Tim believed he was a good leader and he was “fit as a fiddle”.
His communication skills and his status as a “household name” made him a great leader, he said.
“I know it is a cliche but people said I put the city on the map and some elements of that are true because it was a dying city when I came down here,” he said.
“I know I’m doing a good job but you have some down times.
“You just need to enjoy the ups and hang in there when things are not quite going your way.”
He said the recent weeks had been “quite traumatic, difficult and challenging and not a very nice place to be”.