SOME Invercargill city councillors are questioning the ability of Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt, while he is saying he is being ambushed and undermined.
The council last week approved changes to its governance structure by culling four subcommittees and creating two – policy and partnerships and infrastructural services performance. These committees, which would come into effect on June 13, would have full decision-making powers and be formed by all councillors. The decision sparked debate when Sir Tim said he felt ambushed and also accused Deputy Mayor Toni Biddle of disloyalty.
Sir Tim believed the decision would undermine his power.
“The meeting was awful. I hit a wall as the wolves circled and technology glitches made the meeting very difficult.
“People should be concerned by the new structure and the way it was put in place, championed by the chief executive [Clare Hadley] and my political opponents.”
He accused the deputy mayor of campaigning behind his back for a new chairmanship role.
“I expect a deputy to show loyalty, not jump ship when offered power,” Sir Tim said.
Mrs Biddle said she was disappointed with his comments. “I have demonstrated my respect and loyalty to His Worship Sir Tim as I would anyone else in his role.
“Loyalty is good in most cases. But, when people demand blind loyalty, people can stray from a righteous path and I will never be ‘blind loyal’ at the expense of this community.”
Council decisions made were reflective of the need for recovery, she said.
“These actions will streamline decision-making, efficiency and effectiveness for our community,” she said.
“Regardless of Sir Tim’s reaction or personal comments made towards me, I will continue to support our mayor as I always have.”
Cr Rebecca Amundsen believed the changes were necessary and said concerns about the ability of the mayor to chair the meeting was something she had raised before.
Cr Nobby Clark said the move would “strip away from the mayor” some powers, including using a casting vote, in the new committees.
What “Tim sees as disloyalty”, he saw as the frustration of many councillors, Cr Clark said.
“I’ve been a strong supporter of him but he needs to look in the mirror to understand why his colleagues feel that others need to take some roles in running these meetings. It is time to address the elephant in the room.”
Cr Ian Pottinger thought the comments about Mrs Biddle were “unfair, unjustified and cruel”.
Cr Graham Lewis was concerned Sir Tim seemed “a little bit disjointed”.
“What is causing that I have no idea. He is a man of extreme knowledge and the city owes a lot to him.”
Cr Peter Kett said the mayor had done a lot for Invercargill and Southland.
“I admire what he has done but he has slowed down a bit.”
University of Otago politics department PhD student Kyle Whitfield said it was uncommon for local government committees to change structure mid-term.
“Normally, committees are set for the three-year period and, if changes are made, then this normally occurs through consultation with all elected members.”
Although he was unsure of the details behind the Invercargill changes, ultimately, all elected members were responsible for the running of the council, he said.
“Not knowing the full story, it does signal that some councillors are not happy with how things are progressing.
“[They] should be able to have a say in how their committees are structured and run.
“That’s why we live in a democracy. Each person around the council table has one vote, including the mayor.”
Mr Whitfield believed the change to structural governance proposed by the chief executive had merit and should enable the council to make informed decisions quicker.
“Which, obviously, has a benefit for the Invercargill community.”